Much of “religion” is focused on efforts that man can see. This is so often the case that sometimes we fall victim to the notion that it’s what we can do for God that will eventually make us worthy of His love. However, none of us are perfect and we frequently fall short. If your relationship with God is based solely on how well-behaved you are, mistakes open the door to the deadly trio: shame, guilt, and condemnation. Instead of running to our advocate and falling on his mercy, we turn away in shame and delay the grace of God. We may even try to “do” our way to feel worthy again or “clean ourselves up” before we repent, all in hopeless efforts to denounce the sins that we commit and reciprocate the love that God shows us daily.
The facts are that no matter what you do, God loves you anyways and he doesn’t desire for us, the children that he loves with an unconditional love, to run ourselves ragged trying to prove in deed that we reciprocate that love.
In fact, the Bible gives us a pretty clear picture of what Jesus desires of us to “prove” our love towards Him.
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”Psalm 51:16-17
Psalm 51 is a prayer of repentance written by David and it serves as a perfect outline of what God actually wants from us. Though there are things in this life that we must give up to live for God, he will not delight in sacrifice only. What God wants is for us to be clean on the inside. He wants us to prove our love for him from the inside out.
In Matthew, we find Jesus rebuking the Pharisees:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”Matthew 23:27-28
These are pretty harsh words from Jesus. He is calling out the Pharisees for outwardly appearing righteous but inwardly lacking purity, life, and the spirituality that they appear to have. They are putting on a show.
Godliness is our outward expression of our love for God. It might mean dressing a certain way, not going certain places, choosing not to talk like everyone else or enjoy the same entertainment as your peers. While the Holy Spirit empowers us and helps us to do these things, we can most certainly fall into the trap of following all the “rules” without daily dedicating our lives to God. In the same way as the Pharisees, we can appear holy on the outside but actually be cold, carnal, and full of dead people’s bones and uncleanness.
The problem is, while it might be a true sacrifice that you make everyday to please God in your “doing”, if it isn’t coupled with a true daily walk with Him, your “sacrifice” is actually more of a facade. While you might blend in with other religious people, it’s not God you’re pleasing.
Galatians talks about this:
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”Galatians 1:10
Let’s jump back up to Psalm 51 and take a look at some of the imagery that David uses when asking God to make him clean. Here are a few snippets from the chapter:
- Psalm 51:6- “Behold. You delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
- Psalm 51:8- “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”
- Psalm 51:10- “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
The heading for Psalm 51 reads:
“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
The story of David and Bathsheba is well-known. What’s interesting is what we don’t read David repenting of in this Psalm. We don’t read David repenting of adultery, of lying, or of murder. Why is this? Because David knows that all of these sins are only outward symptoms of inward disease. So instead, we see David ask God to cleanse him from the inside so that he can live a righteous life on the outside.
This is how we too should approach our relationship with God– with the knowledge that his desire for our purity starts on the inside of us and not what we can do on the outside to “prove” ourselves.
Rest today knowing this truth but don’t settle. Inward purity is no easy task and is by no means a task that can be accomplished without the enduring grace and mercy of our Father.
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