Is it possible for sincere Christians to worship in vain? Would God allow those who worship Him to be deceived? If so, why?
In the world today, there are several hundred different Christian religions. Each varies from the others in its doctrines. The very fact that there is such variety, all claiming to profess Christ, brings to memory one of the things that our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples when they asked him, "What shall he the sign of thy coming and the end of the world?" His answer, "Take heed that no one deceive you. For many shall come in my name, say- ing. I am Christ; and shall deceive many." (Matt. 21:3-5) (KJV used throughout).
It is sometimes difficult for us to fathom the idea that it is prophesied that many are to come in Christ's name, teaching that Jesus is the Christ, and yet deceive many. How can this be? Why would God allow it?
The Truth Concealed
Consider the following. Many believe that Jesus spoke in parables so that his message would be better understood. But is this true? Listen to Jesus' own reply when this question was presented to him. "And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given" (Matt. 13:10-11).
Why would Jesus deliberately conceal an inspired message to certain people?
The answer lies in Matt. 13:15. "For this peoples' heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them."
There you have it. Because the people are tired of hearing and they are not sincerely interested enough to be converted. That is, they are not interested enough to change the direction of their life.
Following this train of thought, Jesus also said, "Not every one that says unto me 'Lord, Lord', shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). If we are to understand the word of God and not become one of the many that are prophesied to be deceived, then it is important that we be truly interested in discerning the word of God. God places a responsibility upon each of us to prove all things and to hold fast to that which is good (I Thess 5:21).
To enter the kingdom of God we must become involved to the point that we are willing to change our lifestyle. When God sees that we are truly believing to the extent of changing our life, then He will give us further understanding.
Is it possible to worship God in vain? According to Jesus it is! "Howbeit in vain (uselessly) do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.... Full well ye reject the commandment of God that ye may keep your own tradition" (Mk. 7:7.9). Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees and scribes for placing more importance on the traditions of men than on God's own commandments. Is it also true of modern-day Christians? The truth may astound you!
The most celebrated festivals in the Christian world are Christmas and Easter. Most professing Christians are aware that these festivals originated in paganism. This fact is well documented in encyclopedias as well as in many other sources. Most professing Christians believe that they are honoring God by celebrating Christ's birthday and resurrection on these same days that the pagans celebrated the birthday and resurrection of their gods. Even the manner in which they are celebrated remains the same, decorated evergreen trees, colored eggs and rabbits. All of these are the traditions of men.
The Worship of Canaan
Are you rejecting the commandment of God so that you may keep these human-devised traditions? What does God say? "When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods'? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord the God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it" (Deut. 12:29-32).
Ancient Israel was forbidden to even enquire about the worship of the Canaanites, lest they be tempted to incorporate various aspects of pagan worship into the worship of the true God. As we can see, God strongly forbids worshipping Him in the same manner that the pagans worshipped their gods.
In Jer. 10:2-4 we read, "Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen...for the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold: they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not." This seems to be a direct reference to what Christianity has adopted as the Christmas tree. Yet, as we can see, God tells us. "Learn not the way of the heathen."
God forbids us to worship Him in the same manner the heathens worshipped their gods!
In Jer.7:18 we find another interesting scripture: "The children gathered wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven..." It is well known that the queen of heaven was the Babylonian goddess Ishtar (Easter in the English language). Hot cross buns served on Easter have also been identified as the cakes baked to Ishtar, the "queen of heaven."
A Jealous God
What does God have to say about these cakes? "Do they provoke me to anger? saith the Lord: do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, Mine anger and my fury shall he poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast. and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and not be quenched" (Jer. 7:19-20).
Unmistakably, God does not take lightly the false worship of heathen gods. Nor does He take it lightly for anyone to incorporate that type of worship when worshipping Him.
It's very interesting when we study the New Testament to find that the apostle Paul struggled with the same vain worship of God that we find in today's Christian world. Read carefully the following account in Gal. 4:8-11. "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, where unto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain."
The apostle Paul wrote that before they knew the true God they had been worshipping false gods. Then, after they had been converted, they began to go back to observing the pagan festivals! Paul was concerned that he had laboured in vain.
Don't Be Deceived
Perhaps it's time that we seriously consider whether or not we are worshipping God in vain.
Is it possible that we could be among those prophesied in Matt. 24:3-5 that are to be deceived? Hopefully, we are not. But we must remember Jesus' warning, "Strait [difficult] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14). Hopefully we are not dull of hearing and have not closed our eyes to the truth, but are sincerely interested enough in God's word so that we will be willing to change the direction of our life. God is a jealous God, and requires that we put no other gods before Him (Ex. 34:14).
On the other hand, God is merciful and is willing to forgive our iniquities if only we will be sincere and obey His voice. turning from our human religious traditions.
Are You willing to do this?
By Bill Faith
To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.
For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Volume 1 Issue 6, November/December 1997. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.
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