Family traditions. Every family has them. How you spend the holidays may immediately come to mind but that is not the only area where we practice traditions. In my home, it’s tradition to eat out just about every Friday night. It’s the end of the work week and we look forward to getting out of the house for a little family time. Or take our nightly routine. Every evening around 8:15, we start processing our daughter for bed. She always comes into our room and I do a short devotional with her and then we say our prayers and she goes to sleep. Traditions like those are good.
But what about our religious traditions? Should we have them or are they preventing us from a truly intimate relationship with God?
I know that others have been a Christian longer than I have, but after being saved 30 years ago, I’ve had a lot of time to witness the religious landscape of Christianity. My observation is that, while effective and not always bad, traditions are keeping many followers of Christ from really experiencing a close relationship with him. When speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus taught us that our worship of him is a balance of spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). In God’s eyes, one cannot exist without the other.
A Christian who worships in spirit and not truth may look on fire for God. They may be very passionate and want to know him closely, but without truth, he can easily fall into a false understanding of scripture and a lack of obedience to God’s commands. While worshipping in spirit should be the aim of all Christians, it can’t come as a result of what we want or what we envision religion to look like. Our worship must be grounded in the only standard that never changes…God’s word.
On the other hand, a Christian can just as easily fall into the trap of placing all their focus on truth and completely neglect the role of the Spirit in their lives. Christians who do nothing but drive home truth at every opportunity become legalistic and judgmental, staking claim on the one true way to know Christ. Jesus spent much of his ministry on earth criticizing this very thing among the Pharisees. They were the religious elite who created and bound laws upon the Jews that would have been impossible for anyone to follow. They led lives of arrogance and pride and used their position and wisdom of scripture for power and control. Jesus told them, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15:8-9)
I believe that the church really needs admonishment in this area if we are to please God with our worship. It’s time we take a good, hard look at our traditions and presuppositions to see if they are preventing us from really knowing God. Most of the religious world falls into one extreme of the other in regards to spirit and truth. Isn’t it time we do as Jesus has instructed with respect to worship? If you lean towards a more relaxed approach to worship that primarily stokes your feelings but is not rooted in truth, then take the time to study God’s word. Be sure that your worship reflects what he desires. And if your worship stands firm in the truth but lacks passion and intimacy, pay attention to where your heart lies. Be sure you don’t just show up for worship but have a genuine love for it (Psalm 26:8, 27:4).
Remember, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It’s not our way, it’s his way. Always has been and always will be.