Counterfeit Religiosity

National Cathedral - Washington DC

by Mike Ratliff

Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.” And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?” And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. (1 Samuel 15:16-20 ESV)

The Reformers and Puritans would not recognize as genuine most of what we call Christianity today. Of course one the main thrusts of the Protestant Reformation was to make the Word of God accessible to all people. Why? It is in the Bible that we learn the truth. We learn what genuine worship is and what it isn’t. We learn that genuine Christianity will always have the requirement of obedience to God as what marks a true disciple of Christ. False versions of Christianity will always be marked by a version of the truth to obey that is not the complete truth from God’s Word. Instead, men’s rules are used. Because of this, false professions abound in these false churches. Instead of complete obedience being the standard for believers, obedience to man’s version of God’s standard suffices. Just as Saul said he was obedient when he partially carried out God’s mission to destroy the Amalekites, false churches propagate this sort of thing in believer’s day-to-day obedience. It is all relative. There are no absolutes and only someone ate up with legalism would insist on complete obedience to God.

So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror. When he killed them, they sought him; they repented and sought God earnestly. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. (Psalms 78:33-37 ESV)

Convenient Christianity is not genuine Christianity. If people seek God to make their lives better or to escape His wrath, but the focus of this is not to obey God for His glory, but to turn so as not to burn then the odds are pretty good that regeneration has not taken place in the heart. These people see their faith as something they did. They are Christians because they sought God and made the right decisions. This is a form of Pelagianism. This is not genuine Christianity. It is a version of it that makes Man God and God a helpless onlooker. When God does intervene in the lives of Christians (real or not), Pelagians, being full of unbelief, will obey God in order to end the suffering or whatever, but as soon as the heat is turned down they revert back to self-focused religiosity. They cannot walk according the Spirit because they are flesh bound. They cannot find victory over their sin because their only weapon against it is self-will.

Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are fervent lips with an evil heart. (Proverbs 26:23 ESV)

Firemen hate false storefronts. These are facades that look great on the outside, but are only window dressing. They hide the old and ugly storefront. If a fire ever gets going in this area firemen have a huge problem fighting it because of the hidden nature of it. False Christianity is made up of false professors. These people talk a good game, but it’s only the glaze covering an earthen vessel. What does all of this mask? It masks an evil heart. That means it is not regenerate and, therefore, not genuine.

Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the LORD and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. (Isaiah 48:1 ESV)

Genuine Christians do not just confess that Jesus is Lord. They also live spirit-led lives to the extent of their maturity. On the other hand, there are untold numbers of professing Christians who do confess Jesus is Lord, but He isn’t their Lord. They may be very religious. They may be church leaders or pillars or whatever, but if God has not touched their hearts with the His regenerative power, they are not His.

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:1-14 ESV)

Religiosity that does not spring from regenerate heart will produce fruit that may look very good to people. In fact, I was once reprimanded by a young man about an article I wrote about the Emergent Church. In it, he said that True Religion is feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. My response was that that fruit can be counterfeited, however, a genuine regenerate heart in a believer who is walking according the spirit will do good works. The works do not produce the faith. Instead, it is genuine faith working in a regenerate heart that produces much fruit. If we try to please God by our works instead of working with God as He works through us then we miss the boat. False Christianity is guilty of this big time.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:15-23 ESV)

Jesus’ words here are very succinct. Who are the ones who enter the Kingdom of Heaven? They are the ones who do the will of the Father who is in Heaven. Notice that Jesus does not equate religiosity to that. Who does the will of the Father? Only the regenerate can and do. They are the ones the Father uses to produce good fruit or works. What is it that we do that is obedience to the Father? Isn’t it to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him?

We must never forget that people are very good at an outward show of obedience. They may look very good to us, but God knows those who are His and those who aren’t. We must examine ourselves. Are we believers just to avoid Hell? Are we trying to simply avoid God’s wrath? Or are we doing both of those things BECAUSE we love the Lord our God and are continually dying to self in this life for His glory alone? I pray that it is the latter for you.

Soli Deo Gloria!

5 thoughts on “Counterfeit Religiosity

  1. Very convicting, our hearts are deceitful. I do question my motives and pray the Lord will persevere me despite myself. Thanks…


  2. I’m pondering Luke 6:27-36 and wondering how those in the Free Grace Alliance sleep at night. As you point out from Scripture – those who are truly born again WILL demonstrate some growing obedience to and love for the Word of God. Those who are at ease with their sin have no claim on Christ.


  3. I was just reading 1 Samuel 15 two days ago and that passage really stuck in my heart. Just how God demands perfect obedience not even 99/100 obedience is enough. I know that none of us on earth are perfectly obedient in all things but I also know that should be where our aim is set if we truly love the Lord.

    Thanks for this Mike.


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