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Part 20

01 Jul 2021

Matthew 6:1-8

Religion stinks. It is a stench that rises to the throne of God and brings forth His wrath, meriting His judgement.

Religion is so repugnant because it is the flesh masquerading as righteousness and worship of God.

So what is religion? Well, Tim Keller puts it this way, that the operating principle, the  central motivation of religion is “I obey, therefore I am accepted”, whereas the motivating principle of Biblical faith is precisely the opposite, “I am accepted in Christ, therefore I obey”.

Religion flows out of us in our fallen sinful state. It is us filthy rotten sinners parading ourselves around before God and others in a vain attempt to convince God and Man that we are worthy of salvation, more, that through our religiosity we are worthy of praise, high praise, even to the point that we deserve God’s thanks and blessing, and merit our own salvation in account of our righteousness, as if there was something about us, about me, that was so righteous, of such value to God that He needed to save me if He were to fulfil His plan. He just couldn’t do it without me.

The words of the Mac Davis song come to mind “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way”.

Religion is an abomination before God. He will not stand for it.

Our righteousness is as filthy rags before God, and yes, let’s be clear exactly what the Hebrew of that passage in Isaiah 64 actually means, it is used menstrual cloths, and yet some of us expect God to be impressed with us on account of our righteousness. Nope!

Paul refers to his righteousness and all his achievements as dung, and that is a polite translation for the more colloquial Greek word that Paul actually uses.

The Scriptures leave us in no uncertain terms with regard to the sum total value of our righteousness - nill, less than nill. That which we would consider our righteousness actually counts against us in the economy of God.

Now, you may read this and think that no one actually thinks like this Kristopher, but I can assure you, they most certainly do.

I actually had a man who was in his senior years and by no means a new believer, who said in one of our meetings that he just couldn’t help wonder if there was something about him that made God save him, something in him that was valuable to God that made him worthy of being saved so that God might use him to fulfil His plan.

The issue I had with a Pastor which I referred to in a previous instalment centred around this issue. He took umbrage with my statement that God’s love for us is not predicated upon our performance. In my defence of that statement I drew upon Romans 5:8, however, He was convinced that while God saves us by an act of grace, we remain in the love relationship with God by our own good deeds, those good deeds being meritorious of Gods continued love and favour upon us.

The natural end of religion as expressed by both of the examples set out above is self righteousness and pride. The one man believed he was worthy of salvation because of some giftedness that he possessed, the other believed that it was his good works that kept him in God’s love and favour, in other words, God loved him because of his continued righteousness.

Religion pops its head up in other more subtle ways as well where people think that if a person is a good person then God will go out of His way to orchestrate their lives so that they will eventually hear the Gospel and come to faith. However, the scripture is clear, there is none good, no not one. Only God is good.

No-one is saved because of their goodness or their righteousness, or anything else about them that merits their salvation in any way. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is all of God through Christ. We contribute nothing to our salvation other than the sin which necessitated it in the first place.

Listen to the second and third verses of this amazing old hymn as the need for Christ is expressed so beautifully and powerfully. 

Rock of Ages (Click on the title)

All glory in salvation belongs to God and we get none of it, only its blessings.

Here in chapter 6 we are given three examples of the stench of religion at work. The first is in regards to giving to the needy, the second in regards to prayer, and the third in regards to fasting.

In the first example we see the religious hypocrite practicing their righteousness in the sight of others so that they may be seen and praised by those who watch on.

We are told that they will have no reward in heaven, no part in the Kingdom of God, to which they would lay claim on account of their religious deeds. Instead they have already received their reward, that being their sense of self righteousness and the praise of those who watch on.

They have traded an eternal reward, their acceptance of God into His Kingdom, for the temporal reward of the praise of men and their own gratification.

The second example is precisely the same. The religious hypocrites stand on the street corners to pray so that they may be seen by others. They have likewise traded their eternal reward of salvation and entrance into the Kingdom of God for the temporal satisfaction of being regarded by men.

In the third example, the religious hypocrite makes a big song and dance about the fact that they are fasting, how hard it is and how difficult the task, how great the sacrifice they are making in going without food because they are so holy and righteous.

Again, they receive their reward there and then in their own self-righteousness and the satisfaction of being regarded in the sight of others; in the stroking of their ego and gratification of their flesh.

Compare these hypocrites with the fast of God as it is set out in Isaiah 58. Read there the kind of fast that God has in mind over and against the fast practiced by these hypocrites. Hear from the mouth of the Lord the promises He makes to those who would take up the fast that He has chosen.

I’m sure this passage lies behind Jesus’ intentions here in Matthew 6.

In these examples Jesus has given, the religious hypocrites have put their faith in their own righteousness, their own deeds for salvation. their faith is not in God and His mercy and grace, but in themselves and their self-righteousness.

We see precisely the same in Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus says that not all who call Him Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, by entering into the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus here means to be saved. In fact, some of those that call Jesus Lord are in fact workers of lawlessness whom He will cast away from Himself.

Why would He do that to those who are professing Him to be Lord? Well let’s look at the text.

There are two reasons explicit in the text. Firstly, they are workers of lawlessness. They may be calling Jesus Lord but they are not living out their profession. They are saying one thing and yet living out something else. There is a gulf between what they say and what they do. They are hypocrites.

Secondly, look at what they appeal to in order to support their being deserving of salvation, of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. They appeal to the fact that they have prophesied in His name, they have cast out demons in His name, and they have done mighty works in His name. To put it another way, they defend their being deserving of salvation on the basis of their religious deeds, their own good works. Their basis for salvation is that they deserve it because of all of the good works that they have done. As such, their faith is not in Christ for salvation, it is in themselves. They are religious hypocrites and Jesus casts them away from Himself.

These religious people did religious deeds in Gods name, but their hearts did not belong to the Lord, they were not in relationship with Him. This is a theme that is writ large across scripture.

“Because this people draw near with their mouths and honour me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and the fear of the Lord is a commandment taught be men”

Isaiah 29:13, see also Matt 15:8-9, Mark 7:2-13

We must at every opportunity ensure that the flesh has no part in our worship of, or our service to God. That begins by recognising that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good thing dwells.

Salvation is all of God. It is a gift of His mercy and grace that I have not, nor could I ever have earned in any way.

That alone should simultaneously break our hearts at the thought of the depth of our own sinfulness, and at the same time cause us to rejoice that so great a salvation has come to those who in no way deserve it. This in turn should magnify the glory of God in our sight as we understand that it is only by His grace, mercy, and loving kindness that we are saved.

Not only is salvation all of God, but our lives as followers of Jesus and our good works are also all of God. Every gift I have has come from His hand, every good work I have done He has prepared for me to do since before the foundation of the earth was laid. My desire to do those good works is a result of Gods work in me, and the good works I have undertaken have been empowered and made possible by the Spirit of God active in me. I can take credit for not a wit of it.

We have absolutely no grounds for boasting, and as a result, no room for self righteousness or pride, and as a result we have so great a platform for rejoicing in the glorious Gospel of salvation from sin and death through faith in the Lord Jesus the Christ and in Him alone!

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