girl praying over Bible October 15 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading: Mark 7:1-37; Matthew 15:1-31

True Religion

How can we tell what is true religion and what is false? If people come to church regularly and give money in the offering plate, are they religious? If they give to the poor or charitable organizations, are they religious? Is true religion determined by our traditions? Is it measured by our sacrifices of time and money for others? Find out in today's Bible study.

The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (the Old Testament) in Jesus' day certainly seemed religious. What they showed themselves to be, however, was different than who they were. They were haughty, not humble. To show themselves as being more righteous than common Jews, they added their own traditions to the Law of Moses (a probable reference to the books of Leviticus-Deuteronomy). Though the Law said nothing about washing hands, utensils, dishes, and cooking kettles before eating, the Pharisees, showing themselves to be more spiritual, required the Jews to do this. We might argue, “So, what is wrong with that? The practice of washing hands and dishes is very healthy.” That is not the issue. The issue is their heart, not their hands. Jesus said,

What comes out of a man is what makes him “unclean.” For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean,” (Mark 7:23, NIV).

Some believe sacrifices of time, money, or efforts given in the name of God or the church make us righteous; they show how committed we are. However, only Jesus Christ can make us righteous (more...). Attendance to our relationship with God must come first. In the Old Testament Scriptures it is recorded that the Israelites (Jews) offered the daily-prescribed animal sacrifices to God, but their outward obedience meant nothing because they were wicked people. God said to them, “ … I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings,” (Hosea 6:6, NIV). We should be making sacrifices because of our true commitment to God, not to show our commitment.

In Jesus’ continuing argument against the religious leaders, he quoted the prophet Isaiah,

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men, (Mark 7:6-8, NIV).

Jesus said God wants true worship, and that starts with obedience. Jesus gave one example of a command that was set aside for the sake of religion. The Pharisees taught that it was acceptable to set aside the commandment to “honor your parents” by making charitable gifts to the synagogues.* By their traditions the Pharisees were teaching the people to violate one of the ten commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you,” (Exodus 20:12, NIV). Of course their money would benefit the religious leaders. Unfortunately, similar things are done today in American society. Much is preached about giving to the church and other religious organizations but little is preached about giving honor to aging parents by taking care of them. As a result, many people go to church and give their tithes and offerings, hoping for a blessing in return, but they do not help their family members who need it most. We should not neglect the church but neither should we neglect our families.

It has been well said that we can best judge a person's character by what they do privately. Do we just display an appearance of righteousness or are we really godly? These Pharisees were haughty, not humble. They were greedy, not gracious.

In our Chronological Bible study, stories of humility follow the story of the hypocritical, self-righteous Pharisees. A Syrian Phoenician woman, and the friends and family of sick people in the Decapolis area, east of the Jordan River in Israel, needed help and healing. They knew they did not deserve God's grace. They begged Jesus to heal their loved ones and he did. They were humble, and yet they had faith in Jesus to heal. Humility and unpretentious faith please God. True worship is an expression of our faith, and our faith results in obedience, kindness and good works.

Lessons to live by:

  • True worship starts with a personal relationship with God. Only He can give you forgiveness, peace, and spiritual life. Only He can change your heart (more...)
  • True worship is in our hearts not our hands.
  • We should be making sacrifices because of our commitment to the LORD, not to show our commitment.
  • God wants true worship, and that starts with obedience.

*Synagogues were similar to small churches where people might gather for religious instruction. They also served as one room school houses for Jewish boys (girls were educated by their mothers at home with household duties, preparing to be married young).

Today’s Bible Memory Verse:

James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (NIV)

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