Can religion cause us to sin?

The world today is so sinful. Everyday I see people giving control of their bodies to alcohol. Sexuality is explicit and lust is prevalent. People constantly complain and gossip about one another. They glorify vice over virtue. Children do not honor their parents. People consider themselves to be gods and they proclaim it to the world. The music and movie industry is tainted with unjust violence. Human trafficking is at an all time high. Feel-good drugs are being legalized. Every day 125,000 unborn children are murdered. People have made a mockery of what marriage was designed to be, and many times we are happy to condemn these because we honor Christ and because we oppose sin.

My heart is burdened because I know there was a time when I was sinful. Instead of condemning me, God chose to save me; and I have to wonder if sometimes our human religion keeps us from honoring God because we become guilty of constantly condemning others for their actions and even for their beliefs.

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Then Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus and asked, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat!”

He answered them, “And why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition? For God said:

Honor your father and your mother; and,

The one who speaks evil of father or mother

must be put to death.

But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple” — he does not have to honor his father. ’ In this way, you have revoked God’s word because of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said:

These people honor Me with their lips,

but their heart is far from Me.

They worship Me in vain,

teaching as doctrines the commands of men.”

Summoning the crowd, He told them, “Listen and understand: It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

Then the disciples came up and told Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard this statement?”

He replied, “Every plant that My heavenly Father didn’t plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone! They are blind guides. And if the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Then Peter replied to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”

“Are even you still lacking in understanding?” He asked. “Don’t you realize that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”[1]

 

In this passage we see a group of Pharisees who glorified religious tradition and religious rules above God’s word. In keeping their religious tradition, Christ pointed out that they actually failed to follow and obey God’s Law because it caused them to dishonor their mothers and fathers. The Pharisees were Jews, and probably some of the most dedicated to God. In fact, they worshipped God and only God with their lips. Christ claimed that even though they worshipped God with their lips, their hearts were far from Him.

Here we see that the religion of the Pharisees actually caused them to sin against God, and I have to ask if some Christians have added tradition or have added new rules to Scripture that may cause them to act in a way contrary to Scripture and contrary to Christ’s love. I have to ask if these additions actually cause us to dishonor God. As I live, I find that I have to think deeply about my own tradition and about the rules I follow while trying to honor God. Tradition is not a bad thing. In fact I would argue that tradition is actually very important and very helpful. This being said, it also seems that some tradition can actually cause us to sin against God. For instance, I might ask if going to church as a tradition sometimes keep us from truly serving God. If the church building is the only place our faith moves us, then the church service actually becomes a distraction and we lose focus of God, who is sovereign over all of life. The same can be true for the type of music we use to worship God, our particular position of service (or non-service) in the church or in this community or even our religious habits. These things can be good traditions, but they become sinful when they pull our focus from God and place it on something else.

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This message delivered at Peace Congregational Church in Indiahoma, OK

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In the same way, rules are not necessarily evil, but some rules we develop can actually cause us to sin against God. For instance, there is an unspoken rule that says Christians are not to go to clubs, bars or certain types of parties because those places are sinful. We actually can’t find any rule like this anywhere in Scripture. Instead we see Jesus eating with gluttons and drunkards for the sake of the Gospel. There is a way to engage people and culture without sinning against God.

Jesus is also sure to mention that every plant that God did not plant will eventually be uprooted. This simply means that God will do away with anything that did not come from Him. If our tradition is not Godly, it is meaningless. Likewise, if our rules are not of God, they are meaningless. We should be very careful not to add anything to what God has given us because we do so in vain.

So far we have learned that tradition and rules can actually keep us from honoring God. This leads me to ask how we can possibly know what honors God and what does not. According to Matthew, Jesus declared that it was not what went into a person that made him unclean, but what came out. It is not sinful for us to be exposed to sinful things. We must keep in mind that this freedom is not license for us to pursue sinful things, but is instead a freedom that allows us to engage the world without dishonoring God. We can watch television without feeling guilty when something comes up on the screen. We can listen to music freely. We have the freedom to go to places that some might see as questionable or to be around a group of people that cusses all the time. Because God showed Grace to us while we were in sin, we can show grace to others who are in sin. In fact, this is what it means for us to live as ambassadors in the world. We should always keep in mind, though, that we sin when we actually partake in sinfulness. For instance, I can be exposed to improper sexuality and not sin. Once that begins to permeate my mind and my heart is when sin begins in me and when I dishonor God.

This month, we’ve been examining about how Jesus, the Messiah of all people, came to deliver people from sin and death. There are some who will believe in Christ and some who will not (both Jew and non-Jew). In this passage we learn that the Gospel actually gives us quite a bit of freedom. We have permission to be around sinfulness for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, separating ourselves from the world actually becomes sinful because the most basic Christian command is for us to love God and love others. We cannot love God if we do not love others. We cannot love others if we constantly condemn those who are still in sin. Just as Jesus loved and served the worst of people on this earth, so we love and serve even the worst of people for the sake of the Gospel.

If there is someone in your life that you have not loved or that you stay away from on purpose, do something good for them this week. The great news is that if any of us has dishonored God, there is forgiveness in Christ. Believing in Christ gains us forgiveness and life as a gift from God and it is the greatest gift we could ever be given. If you have not experienced that forgiveness and if you have not experienced that life, Christ offers to give it to you (Romans 10:9). It doesn’t matter how sinful or vile you are, there is no condemnation for those who come to Christ (Romans 8:1).

If you question whether or not you know Christ, examine your life. If we have been cleaned by Christ, we will strive to live like clean people. If there is no striving, chances are you have not given your life to Jesus Christ. So enjoy the freedom that you have in Christ, but do not use it to pursue sinfulness. Use it, instead, to love, forgive, and to share Christ’s gift of eternal life with those still in sin.

 

[1] Matthew 15:1-20 (HCSB)

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