The spirit of religion places its trust and value in the things of this world instead of the things of God. Here we see Jesus rebuking the Pharisees because they swore by the gold in the temple instead of the temple itself and the gifts on the altar instead of the altar. Because the religious spirit is hypocritical regarding God and prefers the showiness instead of the substance, it is only logical that it places value on the carnal instead of the spiritual. The religious spirit thinks that the Gospel is somehow ineffective to reach the next generation and therefore seeks to water it down and make it more palatable to draw people in. The result however is that the people are drawn into religion by man instead of true faith by the Holy Spirit. The religious spirit seeks to add human wisdom to the Word of God, chasing every new thought and doctrine.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. -- Ephesians 4: 11-14 (NLT)
This is the formula God set forth when the teaching and pastoring stays true to the faith and the Word of God. Then the people will mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. The religious spirit however goes with every wind of new doctrine. The rationale might sound right -- to reach as many for Christ as we can -- but if at the heart you have compromised the Gospel, you are not reaching them with Christ; let alone for Christ. The result is people who do not grow into the full and complete standard of Christ and who are easily influenced by clever sounding lies.
"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law--justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won't accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! -- Matthew 23: 23-24
The religious spirit is overly focused on money. It misses the overall spirit in which God gives us parameters to live by. I have heard of churches demanding congregants sign covenant agreements even though there is no Biblical precedent. Demanding certain levels of giving or else they are stripped of their membership. Things you would never imagine Jesus doing or condoning. There may be the appearance of justice, mercy and faith but whatever works the religious spirit does -- it is compelled to brag about them. The showy spirit of religion wants to be seen by others as doing "good."
"Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 6: 1 (NLT)
As we come to the end of the rebuke from Jesus we see the final attribute of the religious spirit is desire to appear better than they really are. Whitewashed tombs beloved. How many churches today are essentially whitewashed tombs? Carefully cleaned and crafted on the outside. The most beautiful buildings. The most talented choir. The best trained musicians and singers; who cares if they actually are saved anyway? Fancy pews and designer carpets. Slick salesmen behind the pulpit and slicker marketing men behind the scenes. All to put up the illusion of appearing righteous.
"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy--full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs--beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. -- Matthew 23: 25-28 (NLT)
Appearance over the heart. Flash over substance. Music raised to ear shattering levels to create an emotional response that can be passed off as spiritual. Droning worship music filled with man centered adoration reinforcing the poor theology imparted from the pulpit. Whitewashed tombs beloved. Filled with the bones of dead men; who fancy themselves as alive. The true spirit of religion is a dead spirit. It is centered on hypocrisy and showiness. At its core however it has the keys to the gates of heaven but makes them available to no one. It protects itself at all costs and may even be completely oblivious to what it is doing. It has its logic based squarely in this world and not on the things of God. It values the things of this world over the things of God. The result is that it follows whatever the trend of the week is. You want to draw circles in the sand? Sure, go right ahead! The religious spirit can be overly focused on money and in the end is always about appearing righteous instead of seeking righteousness.
You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! -- 2Timothy 3: 1-5 (NLT)
This warning is from the Apostle Paul to his prote'ge' Timothy and it sums up well the religious spirit we have been discussing today. Acting religious but denying the power that could make them Godly. Stay away from people like that! That power it is found only in our weakness. We can only gain God's true power by giving up our own. The spirit of religion is always about control and power. The Pharisees refused to give it up to the point that they killed the very Savior they claimed to be waiting for. Today that spirit will refuse to concede any of the earthly power it possesses still.
This leads us to the key verses for today. From the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who represent the first religious spirit in the newly founded church. I have heard this story be misused and misinterpreted too often. It has absolutely nothing to do with tithing and money. It has to do with having a religious spirit. A spirit that tried to look better than they really were. This couple wanted to appear more righteous than they were really willing to be. They did not have to give a dime to the Apostles. Peter even says that the money was theirs to do with what they wanted. It was that they chose to present it as a gift, held back part for themselves and lied that they had given it all. They wanted to be like the "super spiritual" people we always see in churches today. Appearance over reality. Flash over substance. The Pharisees laid the blueprint down and even though Jesus spoke often about the folly of their religious spirit, Ananias and Sapphira still tried to infiltrate the early church with it as well. But God was having none of it:
Then Peter said, "Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren't lying to us but to God!"As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him. -- Acts 5: 3-6 (NLT)
Sapphira would also die the same way. Many commentators believe that God did this because of the fragility of the early church. A warning was sent out. Be real or face the wrath of God. Over the centuries however, the religious spirit still managed to find its way in. We need to realize today that the warnings from Jesus still need to be taken very seriously. Religion is merely an appearance. We need more than that to take hold of the power that could make us Godly.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- June 13, 2013