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God hates Religion! 

 

The idea of God hating anything seems to many to be a totally unacceptable proposition. We have a similar response to saying that the Lord our God is a jealous God (Exodus 20/5). Both concepts seem unworthy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Could it be that we are so focused on God being a God of love that we have become unbalanced in our understanding?  

 

When the Bible speaks of God 'hating', it is speaking of His unceasing resistance to anyone and anything that is destructive to His people and to His honour. To further explore that statement is beyond the scope of this article except to say that God's hatred lacks the negative dynamics and the destructive emotions that contaminate human expressions of hatred.  

 

"God hates religion".  So, what is 'religion' and why does God hate it? In using the word 'religion' I am referring to any system of beliefs and behaviour, devised by human ingenuity and that claims to represent and act on behalf of some particular god or gods to the end that it disempowers, controls and manipulates people.  

 

True faith - as opposed to religious systems - is the result of divine revelation, not human innovation.True faith is a human response to a divine initiative (revelation), not a human initiative to evoke a divine response (innovation). You may have to ponder on that statement a little!! 

 

So far as I am concerned, the worst expression of religion is that which started out as true faith but was subsequently hijacked by human 'wisdom' and turned into a religious system. It seems to me that this is exactly what God is resisting as expressed in Isaiah.  

 

"I am sick of your sacrifices," says the LORD. "Don't bring me any more burnt offerings! I don't want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don't want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats. Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices? The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils! Your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath day, and your special days for fasting — even your most pious meetings — are all sinful and false. I want nothing more to do with them. I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them! From now on, when you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look. Even though you offer many prayers, I will not listen. For your hands are covered with the blood of your innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Let me no longer see your evil deeds. Give up your wicked ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows. (Isaiah 1:11-17 NLT)  

 

Time and again in the Old Testament the Lord God expresses His resistance (hatred) against the way true faith has been corrupted and mutated to the point where it is no longer the "faith of our fathers", if you like.  

 

Please don't dismiss this concept of God's hatred of religion as some Old Testament prejudice. One doesn't have to turn too far in the New Testament to find Jesus confronting the distorted expressions of true faith that I am calling religion.      

 

'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce,for they replace God's commands with their own man-made teachings.' "(Matt 15:8-9 NLT)  

 

This quote from Jesus identifies one of the key differences between true faith and religion i.e. religion is outward and involves saying the right words, doing the right actions and meeting pre-determined standards whereas true faith focuses upon the heart, the internal reality.  

 

Matthew 23 gives us a further insight into the power and manipulation of religious systems. In what I can only describe as an unprecedented attack upon the religious establishment of His day, Jesus exposes the nature of religion and religious leaders. Here are just 3 examples of the many that appear in this confronting chapter.  

 

"….they don't practice what they teach…." (v.3)  Religion often has a double standard that promotes knowledge for some but not obedience for all. Leaders of such systems disqualify themselves from having to obey.  

 

"They crush you with impossible religious demands….." (v.4) Religious systems are very performance-based. It all has to do with doing more, trying harder and jumping higher. Such legalism is always a feature of religion.  

 

"….they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the most prominent seats in the synagogue!..." (v.6)  Position, role, status and title are very important in all religious systems. This discrimination against equality is yet another way to control and manipulate.  

 

There is much more that could be said about the nature of religion but I hope the above gives you some idea what I mean when I use that word 'religion'.  

 

But why does God feel so strongly about the impact and influence of religion?  I submit that one of the main reasons is that religion keeps people from experiencing intimacy in relationship with God. The best religion can do is provide us with rules and regulations by which we can try to earn God's favour and acceptance - LAW if you like.  

 

A most compelling illustration of this legalistic way of seeking to earn God's favour is found in the story we often call 'The Prodigal Son' in Luke 15. I refer you to the older brother in the story. Whereas the younger son immersed himself in rebellion, the older son immersed himself in religion; i.e. seeking to prove his worthiness to be called a son of his father.   Listen to the older son as he rebukes his father:  

 

'All these years I've worked hard for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the finest calf we have.' (Luke 15:29-30 NLT)  

 

Like his younger sibling, this brother related to his father on the basis of what he had done and how faithful and diligent he had been over the years. The younger brother said, "I am not worthy to be called your son" (v.21). The older brother was saying, in effect, "I am worthy to be called your son! Look at all I have done for you!!"   Both boys were wrong in how they thought they could relate to their father. Both of them looked to their performance. In other words, their performance - good or bad - would determine their acceptance with their father.  

 

That is the heart of religion. Look at any religion in any era on any continent and you will find - without exception - that acceptance with that particular deity or god is conditional upon fulfilling the rules and regulations of that expression of religion. That is why God hates religion!  

 

The only way out of the 'religion maze' is to discover the meaning of GRACE.  

 

For my part this is the uniqueness of Christianity, of true faith. I know of no other 'belief system' that teaches and practices that we are saved by grace alone.  

 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:8-10 NIV)  

 

When the Christian faith loses the truth that we are saved by grace alone through faith it will quickly degenerate and become just another religion.  

 

And God hates religion!                    

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