10 Warnings against Making Religion Your God

Religion is a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Many times, these practices center around the service and worship of God, or another supernatural being.

The Bible warns against false religion and hypocritical religion. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he emphasized the importance of a relationship with God. The religious elite were the targets of many of Jesus’ criticisms because they continually idolized their religion, while remaining blinded to the fulfillment of the Messiah who was before them. Faith and trust were the key components to discipleship rather than works. His teaching fulfilled the Old Testament law, which concentrated on abiding by God’s commands.

Scripture describes true God-honoring religion (James 1:26-27). As believers in Christ, pure religion takes place when one believes in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God and follows Him in a life of obedience (John 11:25-26; Romans 7:6; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 5:20).

Today, we struggle with striving to make religion our “god” out of our own desire to be in control of how we please God and show others our self-righteousness. The world sees the struggle and is often deterred by the “hypocrites” of Christianity. However, this is exactly what God warns us of throughout Scripture. Perhaps we can learn from some of these lessons today.

1. Bringing Meaningless Offerings and Sacrifices

The nation of Israel made the mistake of continuously practicing the motions of their religion without reflecting on the meaning behind them. Therefore, everything they gave to God was meaningless (Isaiah 1:13-14Amos 5:21Micah 6:6-8). The Israelites made daily and yearly sacrifices and held feasts and fasts, yet their hearts were hard toward their Creator. When we go through the motions in worship, we are in effect doing the same thing as the Israelites.

2. Praise and Worship from Lips Only

God accused His people of honoring Him with their lips while hearts were far from Him (Isaiah 29:13Matthew 15:8). Similar to giving in vain, the Lord desires more than lip service. He longs to captivate our hearts. A person who praises the name of the Lord and does not belong to Him ultimately hinders the Kingdom of God.

3. Judging Others’ Faults and Ignoring Own Sin

Matthew 7:1-5Luke 6:37-42James 4:11-12Romans 2:1-3. Jesus rebuked those who judged others. In Matthew 7, he equated the act of judging others to finding a speck of sawdust in another’s eye while ignoring a plank in one’s own eye. When religion is our god, fear motivates us to prove that we are superior to others based on a false rating scale. We feel as though we must measure up because our identity’s foundation is earned rather than gained by grace alone.

4. Display of Faith over Condition of Faith

The religious elite in the first century wore exaggerated garments to display their righteousness. Their prayer shawls contained longer tassels and their prayer boxes were larger than the other Jewish practitioners. Through these garments they hoped to physically prove their piety. Yet their outward appearance did not match their faithfulness to God. Jesus illustrates this in Matthew 23:5. He teaches that the purpose behind their appearance is personal gain.

5. Style of Prayer over Confession of Heart

Jesus warned his followers against publicizing their prayer life. Those who pray in public to gain reputation already receive their reward. Prayer is communion with our Heavenly Father, meant to deepen our relationship with Him. It is not a method to increase our self-righteousness. The religious elite utilized prayer to convey their own religiosity rather than to communicate with God. Similarly, the gentiles babbled incessantly to their various gods, hoping someone might hear their cries. Jesus emphasized the importance of personal confession to a personal God (Matthew 6:5-8). When religion is a god, the words are more important than the receiver of the words.

6. Pretense without Compassion

Jesus had no patience for those unwilling to serve. In Mark 12:38-40, he warned his hearers of the teachers of the law who elicit respect and honor, yet refuse to show mercy to widows. Jesus warned that these teachers do not practice what they preach and should not be listened to (Matthew 23:3-4). When religion is an idol, the worshipper desires to be known for their “success” in their religion.