The Divine Solution for the Limitations of Rituals
1:Life is a journey, an important journey, and we travel this journey but once. The journey of life is often punctuated with rituals that are intended to fill our experiences with meaning. But the number of people who observe rituals, including religious rituals, and actually derive meaning and purpose in life is unknown. Yet, at least some of these people keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Against this background, it should not surprise you that God rejects non-substantive participation in rituals.
- "I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
- I won't even notice all your choice peace offerings.
- Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
- I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living" (Amos 5:22-24, NLT). If this is not a redirect, then what is? Clearly, one can be faithful in observances of religious rituals and yet be rejected by the very God to whom the practices are directed. What a frightening thought! Yet, if one could hope for a testimony at the end of one's days, it would be what Paul described to Timothy: "I have fought long and hard for my Lord, and through it all I have kept true to Him. And now the time has come for me to stop fighting and rest" (2 Timothy 4:7, TLB). If each of us could have this testimony, then the journey of life was truly meaningful.
2:Religious rituals are intended to enrich our lives (Exodus 28:28-30, CJB | Ancient Jewish History: The Urim & Thummim | Leviticus 8:8, TLB | Numbers 27:21, TLB). However, if the mind of the person practicing the ritual has not been yielded to God, mere performance of rituals is an exercise in futility (1 Samuel 28:5-8, CJB | Deuteronomy 18:9-12, TLB). And for that reason, "...The Lord says, 'These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites with amazing wonders. The wisdom of the wise will pass away, and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear'" (Isaiah 29:13-14, NLT). Jesus was mindful of the futility of rituals as He talked with "...the Pharisees and teachers of religious law..., [when one of them asked Him], 'Why don't your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.' Jesus replied, 'You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote—These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God'" (Mark 7:5-7, NLT). You may want to take a deeper look at your own ritualistic practices.
3:Religious rituals are not exempt from bequeathing emptiness to practitioners. You may experience a high, the emotional lift, which comes while you are doing the ritual, but the journey back to reality is both soon and certain. Isaiah captured this emptiness in the following statement—"We have fasted before you! ...Why aren't you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don't even notice it..." (Isaiah 58:3, NLT). These commments are indicative of an inner emptiness, despite ritual engagement and lend credence to the notion that true meaning in life will never be found in mere observance of religious rituals. People who live within the Christian era—A.D., should take special notice of Micah's statement.
- "…Shall we bow before the Lord with offerings of yearling calves? Oh no!
- For if you offered Him thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of olive oil, would that please Him? Would He be satisfied?
- If you sacrificed your oldest child, would that make Him glad? Then would He forgive your sins? Of course not!
- No, He has told you what He wants, and this is all it is—to be fair, just, merciful, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:6-8, TLB).
Rituals were never intended to be a substitute for walking humbly with God, but an aid to doing so (1 Corinthians 11:23-25, TLB). So if you are adherent to religious rituals and they fail to help you give glory to God—the purpose for which you were created (Isaiah 43:7, NLT), then it is time to take an inventory.
4:Let us examine one ancient ritual that went arwy. "God… gave Abraham the ceremony of circumcision... as evidence of the covenant between God and the people of Abraham…" (Acts 7:8, TLB | Genesis 17:10-14, TLB | Genesis 17:23-27, TLB | Joshua 5:3-7, TLB). But as Joshua noted: "...All the men who had been old enough to bear arms when they left Egypt..., they had NOT obeyed the Lord, [although they were circumcised; thus God] wouldn't let them enter the land He had promised to Israel...." It is not enough to participate in rituals without yielding the heart in obedience to God (Genesis 4:3-5, NLT). We cannot love God's requirements more than we love God who gave the requirements. For as clay is malleable in the hands of the potters, so are we to be in the hands of God (Jeremiah 18:1-6, CJB).
5:You might serve the Law in letter and yet violate it in substance and spirit. Let us look at an example. Today, evidence of the covenant between God and His people is the "…keeping [of] God’s commandments. This is the important thing" (1 Corinthians 7:18-19, TLB | Hebrews 8:10, TLB | Hebrews 10:16, TLB). "...Fear God and obey His commands... is everyone's duty" (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NLT). The New Testament audiences who received these messages heard this emphatic statement—"Being a Jew is worth something if you obey God’s laws; but if you don’t, then you are no better off than the heathen. And if the heathen obey God’s laws, won’t God give them all the rights and honors He planned to give the Jews? In fact, those heathen will be much better off than you Jews…” (Romans 2:25-27, TLB). That prediction later became a reality (Romans 9:30-32, TLB). Where are you going with this reasoning? "…We to whom Christ has given eternal life don’t need to worry about whether we have been circumcised or not, or whether we are obeying the Jewish ceremonies or not; for all we need is faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6, TLB). Leave rituals alone if you lack love, through which faith works—gives expression.
6:Faith and love are to religious rituals what co-factors—vitamins—are to inactive enzymes. As cofactors make enzymes become active so they can participate in needed chemical reactions, likewise, faith and love give substance to our religious ritual observances, filling them with meaning and taking us to greater depths of meaningfulness. Why is it this way? "You can NEVER please God without faith..."(Hebrews 11:6, TLB); and "love... fulfills the requirements of God's law" (Romans 13:10, NLT). "So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law [or performing a ritual]. For the Scripture says, 'It is through faith that a righteous person has life. This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says—It is through obeying the law that a person has life'" (Galatians 3:11-12, NLT). "This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking His promise. For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would NOT be the result of accepting God's promise. But God graciously gave it, [the inheritance], to Abraham as a promise" (Galatians 3:17-18, NLT), because "...no one can ever be made right, [that is, deserving of merit or acceptable], in God's sight by doing what the law commands. For the more we know of God's laws, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying them. His laws serve only to make us see that we are sinners" (Romans 3:20, TLB); "..and guide [us] until Christ came to give us right standing with God through our faith..." (Galatians 3:24-25, TLB). And these statements of Paul are consistent with James' inquiry, which states—"Fool! When will you ever learn that believing is useless without doing what God wants you to..." (James 2:20-24, TLB); which is, "...obey Him, bringing glory to His name" (Romans 1:5, NLT).
7:What are the main lessons to learn regarding ritual observances? Lesson one is order of precedence. We must put first things first! “…[Regarding] the happiness of an undeserving sinner who is declared ‘not guilty’ by God…, Abraham… received these blessings through his faith. …[And] it was before he became a Jew—before he went through the Jewish initiation ceremony of circumcision. It wasn’t until later on, after God had promised to bless him because of his faith, that he was circumcised. The circumcision ceremony was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him just and good in His sight—before the ceremony took place…” (Romans 4:6-11, TLB). We who practice religious rituals should therefore examine ourselves to ensure that we do not confuse God's appointed order of precedence. Hence, when "one of the teachers of religious law... asked [Jesus the question], 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?' Jesus replied, 'The most important commandment is this: Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength'" (Mark 12:28-30, NLT). No ritual observance, not matter how ardent, can take the place of authentic love, which "...the Holy Spirit..." imparts (Romans 5:5, NLT). And those who are filled with love, received from the Holy Ghost, keeps God's word (John 14:23-24, NKJV). This process sets up a cycle where "...the Holy Spirit... is given by God to all who obey Him" (Acts 5:32, TLB). Let us quickly examine a logical extension of this principle! "To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them" (Matthew 13:12, NLT).
8:Is your life a cover up? Are you a very busy person, living a life filled with activities, including ritual observances, while a deep void exists in the pit of your mind? If that conditiions describes who you are, then doing more rituals or doing the same rituals more vigorously would NEVER fill that void! “…What counts is whether we really have been changed into new and different people” (Galatians 6:15, TLB); whether we have “…become a brand new person inside…” (2 Corinthians 5:17, TLB). “…Whether a person has Christ is what matters…” (Colossians 3:11, TLB). "Has Christ been formed within? Has He established a permanent presence in your mind? Has the angel, whom John saw "...coming up from the East, carrying the seal of the living God, ...placed the seal of God on [your] forehead..." (Revelation 7:2-3, NLT)?
9:Take an inventory! A time is coming, says the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised in body but not in spirit…. Unless you circumcise your hearts by loving me, your circumcision is only a heathen rite… and nothing more" (Jeremiah 9:25-26, TLB). “Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead…” (Joel 2:13, NLT). Ignore those who wants to drag you into bondage through adherence to rituals as a solution to inner emptiness. That remedy is outdated. “Never forget that once your were heathen and that you were called godless and unclean by the Jews. But their hearts, too, were still unclean, even though they were going through the ceremonies and rituals of the godly…” (Ephesians 2:11, TLB). These Jews attempted to burden early Christians with circumcision (Acts 15:1, TLB), and the apostles refuted their demands (Acts 15:24-29, TLB). Likewise, we must refute the demans of modern "slave masters" who want to burden God's people with meaningless rituals as a solution for inner emptiness. What is the conclusion of the matter? Focus on substance! “Take care to live in [Christ], and let [Him] live in you…. …If you stay in [Christ] and obey [His] commands, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted” (John 15:4 & 7, TLB)! "...God has dealth to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3, NKJV). Therefore, use the faith God gave you to ask Christ to fill the inner void with peace (2 Thessalonians 3:16, TLB), and He will do for you just as He did for Daniel—“…O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous…” (Daniel 10:19, NLT)!
Bro. Graham F. Watts, Sr.