by Mike Ratliff
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 ESV)
When I was a young man and even prior to that when I was a teenager, I was quite religious. I went to church with my family and tried to emulate what I saw my parents do in their devotion. I tried to reach a point in my own devotion where I could be fulfilled, wanting to serve God with the joy and fervor I saw in other believers. However, I just could not do it. I found myself bored in church. I found no inner drive to read my Bible. I had no desire to have a consistent devotion to God because there were so many other things in my life that were more important to me than that. I was tormented by the fact that I could not behave consistently “Christian.” I had no self-control in certain situations. Then I would visit my family and attend church with them on Sunday full of remorse and guilt. I would exit the service determined to do good works and not sin anymore. I look back on that time now and almost laugh except it was a horrible conflict in my life at that time. I was convinced that being a Christian consisted of doing Christian things. In that unregenerate mind, a Christian was a Christian because they did those things. That, of course, is what works righteousness is.
Look at the passage I placed at the top of this post. It describes a woman named Anna whom Mary and Joseph encountered at the Temple when they brought the infant Jesus to be presented for purification according to the Law of Moses. (Luke 2:22) Look at her devotion! Look at her dedication! Isn’t that someone we can emulate? She never departed from the temple, worshipping and fasting and prayer night and day. Watch out! If we have in our hearts the idea that all we have to do is fast and pray and emulate other Christians who are very devoted to God then we will attain a higher level of spirituality then we have fallen into the snare of works righteousness.
Anna did what she did because of her place in the Kingdom of God. She was a new creation. She was a regenerate believer who walked closely with her Lord. Because of this she did good works. The relationship did not develop because of her good works. Those who make the mistake of seeking God through their works will either end up very religious, but in a dead spiritual state, or totally burned out on “Christianity.” This makes sense because God isn’t going to place His hand on anyone who is trying to work their way to Him. Our salvation is His work not ours.
I often counsel people who are despondent or depressed or “empty” in their walk to quit trying to be religious and, instead, simply seek God through prayer and His word while seeking to be obedient to Him in all areas of their lives. In other words, submit to His Lordship. Give Him all of self. Love Him with your entire being. Don’t worry about outward manifestations of religion. Pray through the Word of God and obey what He shows you. This is the very thing I do when find that God has me in a place where my sense of peace is waning. Religion or religious works do not cut it. In fact, all they do is bring further frustration when I am in this state. We must never forget that good works are the fruit of a regenerate heart. It is never the other way around.
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