The Religious Rebel
Most of us don’t spend a lot of time reading Judges in our devotional times! But in one of my Bible studies we were looking at the life and work of Deborah in Judges 4-5. She was brave and faithful, a trusted and loved leader of her people. The period of the judges is interesting because the Israelites cycled through several stages again and again They would turn away from God, find themselves miserable because of the consequences of their actions, cry out to God who would send them a judge. The people would then repent and have a time of peace. But when the judge died, the whole cycle started again, often with the Israelites participating in worse evil than before.
We have cycles of sin in our lives too. When times are good in our lives we tend to rely on ourselves thinking, “I’ve got this down! I can handle anything that comes my way.” God gets rejected outright, or forgotten inadvertently. Then tough times come. We face tragedy or heartache. We have a trial that is embarrassing or that takes us to our deepest rock-bottom. Then we turn to God because we know we need him. We have nowhere else to turn.
Sometimes these cycles include obvious outward sin. A young adult strays from God, adopting a lifestyle inconsistent with his or her upbringing. Maybe one spouse in a marriage decides Christianity is a bunch of nonsense and heads in a completely different direction. Like an out of wed-lock baby or a stint in rehab some sins have visible consequences. The destruction and outcomes are available for all to see and judge.
Another kind of rebellion has been a problem for me. When my life is good and I think I’ve got it all together, I don’t rebel from God, I just set him aside. My sin is not to seek out the world and all it has to offer, but to seek praise from being a very good person. I become more religious, while my personal relationship with him suffers. My heart feels hard toward him and instead of seeking him out and trying to soften my heart, I pour more time and effort into good works. I volunteer more at church, and pray out loud when in a group. I pat myself on the back and it feeds my pride. I get the attention I crave and it stokes the fire of selfishness in me.
This kind of sin is dangerous because it is so personal. I can keep up a good outward appearance for a long time. No one knows that I have stopped spending time with the Lord. No one knows I am keeping all the glory for myself. The longer it goes, though, the emptier I am.
Religiosity can only be kept up for so long before the insincerity starts to break through. This is the rebellion of religiosity. Have you struggled with this? Do you fear being caught? Is pride starting to eat you from the inside out?
In I Timothy 1:3-7, Paul is warning the church to avoid false teaching and command those who are teaching these false ideas to stop. Verse five says, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart, and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Each of these are inner qualities. The result of having these inner qualities is love, love for God and love for others.
Pray for a softened heart. If you find yourself in a place of religious rebellion, the first thing to do is to turn to God and begin spending time in personal prayer and study. Stepping down from some of your religious works might be a good idea. Ask a friend or mentor to keep you accountable to daily time with the Lord. Don’t lose out on a close relationship with God just to keep up appearances. Seek him daily.