"Religious", but Not Righteous

Bill Brinkworth

Man has a natural desire in his heart to please God. To fulfill this innate desire, many serve Him their own ways, not His, according to the Scriptures. Just doing what we think or feel is “religious”, or doing what a denomination or religion says to do, does not make one right before God. There is only one God, and the only way into His heaven is His way as commanded in His Word.

There are many “religious” people in the Bible, that Christ knew were not righteous. They included:

Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a member of a very religious group known as the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed in hell, eternal life, angels, providence of God, the law, and doing good deeds. Using man’s standards, this good man would surely seem to be heading for heaven. Christ, knowing all about Nicodemus’ religious affiliation and his good deeds, knew there was something very important missing in the Pharisee’s life. There was a connection missing between what the man knew, and what he really understood, believed, and lived.

Christ knew that the Pharisees were hypocritical in many areas (Mat. 6:2, 5 & Luke 18:9-14), and that Nicodemus was no different. They obeyed the law, but did not understand the principle the scripture was teaching. They served their traditions and teachings, rather than the God that gave them to them.

When Nicodemus saw Christ, he did not recognize Him as the promised Messiah, but only as a teacher (“rabbi”). Others, who had less knowledge than the intellectual Pharisees recognized Christ as the Saviour, and changed their lives to obey him in the future. The Pharisees’ pride kept them from humbling themselves, and admitting they were not heartily serving God. It was to Nicodemus that Christ said “… Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Saviour knew that the religious man obeyed God in His actions, but did not purpose in his heart to obey and serve God with love and devotion. Jesus saw through the man’s religion, and knew just following the man-made religion was not obeying or serving God.

The religious. In several places, Christ lambasted those that claimed to be righteous, but inwardly, they were hypocritical despite their ministries, service, and education. He called them what they were; as dangerous as poisonous snakes. These “religious” people were not only not obeying God; they were leading others astray also.

In Matthew 23 Christ reminded the religious leaders and the intellectuals that they talked the talk, but it was they who were responsible for the death of many of the godly prophets and saints.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous … Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?...” Matthew 23:29-34

Later, it would be this group of “religious” people that succeeded in having the son of God killed (John 18:3). They looked righteous, but God knew that their hearts were wicked.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” Matthew 23:25

Those that are ritualistic. Many did the right things, but for the wrong reasons. Jesus knew that some prayed only to be heard by others, and that some fasted only to be thought “holy” by others.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Matthew 6:5
“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Matthew 6:16

After being reminded of these few encounters Christ had with the “religious”, we see He requires more from us than just going through the “religious” motions. Just going to a church, talking a “religiously correct” way, and going through righteous motions does not guarantee one is “righteous” before God’s eyes. There is a dead, godless form of “holiness” that we are to keep away from.
“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” II Timothy 3:5

Yes, it is important to go to church, live righteously, and do what the Bible commands. We are to do these things and more, but only if we do them sincerely to please and obey God. As Jesus, commanded Nicodemus, the first step in being sincere is to know one is a sinner, to be truly repentant of our commissions of sin and to trust that Christ’s finished work on the cross was the only payment acceptable for our sins. Once we are saved, and not just following what others tell us God wants us to do, we will be righteous in God’s eyes.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” Titus 3:5

“Don't stay away from church because there are so many hypocrites. There's always room for one more.” — Adam 


This article was featured in The Bible View #194.

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