Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Jesus ended that statement in the same verse with “for they shall be satisfied”. We are blessed and satisfied when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness is hungering and thirsting for God.
God has placed a natural void in our lives that He intended to be filled with Himself. However, most people (Christians and non-Christians) try to fill that void in their lives with many things of this world only to discover that they are never satisfied. Money, power, sex, possessions, drugs, or anything else of this world will never satisfy us. Only the righteousness of God that comes from seeking Him will ever satisfy us.
However, if the devil can’t draw us away from God with the immoral rivals of this world, he will attempt to distract us with the invalid rituals of religion. Satan loves religion. That may strike you as odd at first, but hear me out. We must ask ourselves “what is religion?” Religion for the most part is a system of things that we should do and things that we should not do. It is a meaningless and emotionless system that is only rooted in what we do and is focused entirely on us. The things that are done out of the spirit of religion may be good and proper and even biblical; yet, they are done out of a sense of tradition rather than a Spirit-led soul that seeks the face of God. Many times religious rituals are done out of a sense of guilt, trying to appease God rather than out of a heart that is sold out to God.
As we look in the Gospels, we find that the people that Jesus was the harshest to were the Pharisees. The Pharisees had religion down to an art. However, Jesus said of them in Matthew 25:27, 28, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Religion focuses only on external things to the neglect of the soul. God isn’t concerned with outward things. He is focused on the heart.
Shortly after God called me to plant a church in 2006 He gave us our first convert who repented from her sins and wholeheartedly gave her life to Jesus. When that first convert walked forward, I noticed she was wearing a shirt with a large beer logo on the front of it. It didn’t bother me; however, the religious person would have turned her away and said, “Don’t come back until you are dressed properly.” What we later found was she had lost everything she owned in Hurricane Katrina except the clothes on her back. In the process of rebuilding her life, her newly acquired home as well as her few belongings burned to the ground just a few days before we met. The clothes she had on that day was all she owned, and they were given to her by someone else. Had I been a religious, person I would have turned her away in her most desperate time of need. She most likely then would have viewed all Christians and all churches as cold and heartless, and her soul would have been forever condemned to hell. Yes, Satan loves religion.
Being focused on the external rather than the internal keeps our focus off of God as well. Jesus said in John14:15, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” Notice Jesus did not say, “If you keep My commandments, you will demonstrate your love for Me.” That is religion. However, if we know Jesus because we are seeking Him, we will love Him. And if we love Him we will obey Him-not out of a sense of necessity because that is the right thing to do, but out of a sense of bringing honor and glory to the One we love.
What do you think my wife would have done if on our wedding day I would have said to her, “Honey, I will stay faithful and true to you all the days of my life because that is the socially acceptable thing to do and that is everyone’s expectation of me? Besides, what would everyone think of me if I was ever unfaithful to you?” She would have thrown the ring back in my face and marched right out of there! I am not faithful to my wife because it is the right thing to do. I am faithful to her because I love her. In like manner, I am not faithful to Jesus because it is the right thing to do. That is religion. I am faithful to Him because I love Him.
God despises religion but longs for relationship. God loved us first; and, therefore, desires for us to love Him back. I John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us.” God doesn’t want our hearts and minds focused on ritualistic religion, but He wants a relationship that longs to know Him more and more. Why do I then go to church? To seek Him and worship Him and to know Him more! Why then do I pray? To seek Him and worship Him and know Him more! Why then do I read His word? To seek Him and worship Him and know Him more! Anything I do for the Lord should be for the purpose of seeking Him, worshiping Him, and knowing Him more-not because it is simply the right thing to do.