The Evil of Feigned Religion
Worship is one of the highest acts that a Christian can perform. When we worship we are communicating to God the idea that we are dependent upon Him for our daily survival. We are ascribing Him the place of highest position in our lives. Do not mistake worship as merely singing songs or listening to the preaching of God’s word. Worship exists in every aspect of our spirituality. It is the outpouring of the heart’s emotions and the bodily action of giving, singing, or serving in response to those emotions. We worship when we give to God our money our time and our service. We pour out in song and word and deed how important the Almighty is to us. We use our skills playing instruments, our oratory voices in directing the congregation in the act, and we plead with God to accept these tokens that we throw out to Him. And indeed, He does! Amazingly we are told that worship, when done in the prescribed manner, is not only acceptable to God but it is also pleasing in His sight. The Old Testament describes proper worship in this way:
Le 1:13 it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
Worship is such a vital part of life that if done incorrectly and irreverently God acted immediately in the rejection, and usually, subsequent punishment of the one violating His command. The very first example we see in the Bible of this type is Cain, who brought forth an offering not of the prescribed kind directed by God. God rejected him and when Cain killed His brother he was cursed by God. His religion was feigned (hypocrisy)!
And also, Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, are to serve for us an example of the dire consequences of irreverent worship:
Le 10:1-2 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. 2And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
Even when the sons of the high priest did not approach God in the correct manner they were punished. Their status as Aaron’s sons mattered not. The strange fire was not what God had prescribed, and we could muse all day long exactly what they did or didn’t do. But one thing was very clear: they did not do it the way it should have been done. Their religion was feigned!
You may ask, “What about those who are sincerely trying to worship God but do not do it in the way God command them? Will they too, be punished?” For this I have no answer but will be content to let Scripture interpret what you seek:
2 Sam6:5-7 And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.
It may not seem just that God would put to death a person that was sincerely trying to perform a good action; and no doubt every intention Uzzah had was good for he intended to protect the arc of God from falling to the ground and being injured. But the arc, it must be remembered, was the place where God chose to place His very presence; His very holy and righteous presence. It was the very meeting place of God and His high priest on the day of atonement (Ex 25:10-16) to make atonement for the sins of the people and Uzzah’s carelessness, no matter how thoughtful, was irreverent simply because he attempted, as a sinful being, to touch his flesh upon the place of God’s presence.
So you see, friends, God is very serious about the act of worship. And especially when worship is done irreverently or without thought given to it—feigned religion. It is religion that is insincere, or faked, or done out of repetitious callousness. That is why God despises this type of action. That is why He refused to accept the worship of His own people . That is why He rebuked them and sent plagues upon them and prophesied destruction upon them. Their feigned religion led them to a disobedient lifestyle. But God is pleased when we worship Him in sincerity. The Greeks had a word for ‘sincere.’ In the ancient days there were many dishonest pottery dealers. Because pottery was fragile during the firing stage much of it would crack. This however, would not stop a dishonest dealer. He would take a hard type of wax and push it into the cracks and glaze over it. The only true way to see it was to hold it up to the sunlight so that it would reveal all of the faults. An honest potter dealer would mark his material with the word, ‘sincere.’ The word can be literally translated, ‘no cracks.’
Now we come to our passage and see the act and the consequence of feigned religion. The fledgling church is breaking out. The people are worshiping God, the believers are of one mind, and all seems to be going well. The church has faced its first opposition from the outside. Chapter 4 finds Peter and John facing the religious leaders after a miraculous healing and are strictly charged to stop preaching and teaching in Jesus’ Name. They boldly continue to obey the Lord and people continually are saved and added to them. But now, they are about to face their first inside attack from Satan! We are told at the end of chapter 4 that a particular disciple, Barnabas, sold a piece of land and brought the money to the apostles. This is where we pick up our text.
The Act of Feigned Religion (vv.1-4)
The hypocrisy begins at the outset of the chapter. Ananias and Sapphira sell a piece of land and purposely keep back a portion of the money before bringing it as an offering to Peter. The exact motive behind the couple’s reasoning is left untold. We are only told that they consulted each other and both agreed to lie about the amount of the revenue given to them for the property. They purposely, and with full heart, intended to go through with the act of false worship. Their motive suggests one major thing about them:
1. Their motive was an act of self-worship. Again, we are not told why the couple did what they did. But I can only imagine that they no doubt thought that mimicking Barnabas’ generosity would bring them some kind of stature and clout with the apostles and the church as a whole. When Peter first confronts Ananias he asks him why Satan had filled his heart to lie. It is interesting to note that the word ‘filled’ in this context is the very same word that is used when a believer is filled with the Holy Spirit. In chapter 2 at Pentecost is said that the apostle were filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul command s believers not to be drunk but filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). According to translators this word means to be in control of actions and thoughts. Thus, to be filled with the Spirit is to subject our thoughts and actions to Him while being filled by Satan would be to subject our thoughts and actions to him. When we seek to “boost” our spiritual acts we are really being filled by Satan and engaging in the act of self-worship. We intend to fake a level of spirituality that is not present in order that those who see it would endow praise upon our actions. Those who crave to be well spoken of for their religious deeds are in fact robbing God of the glory that He rightly receives. This is the very thing that Satan desires. He longs to be that which is worshiped instead of God. And if we decide that we should receive the glory then we are, in essence, saying the we are more worthy than God. And though our lips may never utter those words our motives shout them to others in megaphone manners. That is why this horrid act is self-worship; but more so than this is what Jesus Himself had to say about hypocrites:
- They have received their reward (Mt 6:1-2). If the praise of men is what we seek, the praise of men is what we are rewarded with. Jesus tells us over and over that we are to do our deeds in secret so that He may reward us openly.
- Hypocrites are unregenerate (i.e. they are lost Mt 23:27). Jesus describes the religious hypocrite as a whitewashed tomb! This term is best understood when describing the customs of the people of the day. Touching a dead body was considered to be unclean. If a person came in contact with a corpse he was not able to participate in the worship ceremonies for the prescribed amount of time, usually the remainder of the day. He would have to stay outside the camp and bathe and wash his clothes and when evening came he would be considered clean and come back into the camp in time for the twilight sacrifices. By the time of Jesus the people had become accustomed to whitewashing their tombs in order to warn everyone where the corpses were buried. This way, a person could easily avoid being defiled by walking over a grave or tomb that was cut inside the mountain. These tombs appeared somewhat attractive but on the inside they stank of rotting and decomposing bodies. This is exactly how Jesus described religious hypocrites! They may have appeared to have some form of piety (2Tim 3:4-5) but they are just as dead and spiritually rotting away as those who were buried in those tombs.
2. Their motive suggested they could deceive God. God is not one that can be fooled. Scripture declares time and again the omniscience of God. If He has declared the end from the beginning then He certainly would have been aware of Ananias and Sapphira’s plot. Peter confronts this attitude head on when he declares, “You have not lied to men but to God.” It is a statement that contrasts the knowledge of men with the knowledge of God. Had God not supernaturally revealed to Peter what was going on the couple may have very well succeeded in their false religion. But Peter makes it very clear to Ananias that lying to God is quite impossible. When a person lies to man he has broken God’s Law. But if he attempts to lie to God who can intercede on his behalf?
The Consequence of Feigned Religion (vv.5-11)
Moving on in the text we come to the consequence of feigned religion. The punishment for Ananias and Sapphira was swift and sudden and many may view it as harsh. Why would God impose such a harsh sentence simply for lying? All of us will readily admit that we have lied yet we are still breathing today. I believe there are three reasons why the punishment had to be severe:
1. It revealed the seriousness of sin. We have become so accustomed to accepting sin that we often forget just how serious it is in God’s sight. We justify little things (like a lie) by renaming it. We call it a ‘white lie,’ meaning it’s a lie that won’t really matter if it is told. After all, no one is getting hurt. Or we may call it ‘slanting the truth,’ in which case we perceive that we haven’t fully lied or that part of what we are saying or doing is truth. We may even just flat out tell a lie and think that the consequences shouldn’t be so severe if we get caught. But we should examine it in the light of God’s Word. For example, if I tell a lie to my wife she may get angry at me and the consequence would be that she doesn’t speak to me for awhile. If I tell a lie to my boss I may get fired from my job depending on the nature of that lie. But if I should happen to lie to the government then the consequence could very likely be that I spend some time in jail. In all three instances the sin was the exact same thing: a lie. What was it that changed? It was the level of authority that I lied to. The higher the authority, the more severe the consequences. Now take that example and say that I lie to God. The Bible is clear: I deserve nothing less than death! “The wages (or payment; or earnings) of sin is DEATH! Did you get that? For every sin you commit you deserve death! You deserve eternal separation from God. And just in case you think that all you have to do is to “apologize” to God and ask Him to forgive you, you must realize that it is not even an issue of forgiveness. A crime against the Highest Authority has been committed and now a penalty has to be paid. If you commit a crime and tell the judge that you’re really sorry and you even ask the person that you committed the crime against to forgive you, the judge is still bound by the law to sentence you. God is bound by His Law to sentence you and there is no way around it—by yourself!
2. It revealed God’s attitude towards hypocrisy. God is serious about His reputation and He is angry when we use His Name in vain. Most of us see swearing or cursing as using God’s Name in vain. But religious hypocrisy is also a form of blasphemy. When we pretend that we are one of God’s people and that we love Him we are using His Name in vain. People pray to God everyday with their own motives: they want their relationships fixed or they don’t want to go to jail or they need to pay their rent. They are in some kind of dire straits and their motive is simply to have God rescue them from their financial crunch or the consequences of their actions. In short, they don’t want God to save them from their sin they just want Him to get them out of a jam. They are committing hypocrisy! God will not allow His Name to be blasphemed. In Scripture the only thing God ever holds higher than His Name is His Word, and that’s because His Word is tied directly to His Name. If we are going to claim His Name we better be sure that our motives are pure and undefiled.
3. It revealed God’s love to His church. As strange as it may sound it is true. This was a crucial time for the young church. They were growing and with that growth came persecution. If the church was going to survive what was getting ready to come then they needed to be absolutely pure and dedicated to Christ’s cause. A similar thing happened with Israel when they were getting ready to possess Canaan. On the verge of entering the land they were commanded to devote everything to destruction, even the gold and silver. But one man, Achan, decided that he would try and fool God by stealing some of the treasure for himself. This act not only cost Achan his life but also the life of his entire family. It was only after that purging did God bless Israel and allow them to conquer the rest of their enemies. In the same way, the fledgling church had to be purged of its hypocrisy if they were going to continue to move forward. God loves His people too much to allow them to ignore or remain in sin. If He would have “overlooked” this incident it would have been a message to the people that they could sin and get away with it. But we know that although God loves His people he despises their sin.
Hypocrisy is a great evil. God gave His people the solution for hypocrisy in several places:
Joel 2:12-13 12"Yet even now," declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and rend your hearts and not your garments."Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Jer4:3 3For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: "Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.
I stated earlier that God could not just overlook sin; that He was obligated to punish it. And He has done that. One of the greatest passages in all the Bible is Romans 3:23-25. It describes how God can forgive sin. God’s justice was fulfilled when Jesus hung on the cross. He bore the full wrath and penalty of sin (death) in His very own body. This is what Scripture means when it says, “He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). By this act God punished sin and is now able to pardon those who deserve death. But this act only takes place when one throws himself at the mercy of the cross, repents of their sins, and trusts Christ’s finished, completed work on the cross. In closing this morning, I extend two invitations:
- This invitation is for those who are still under the condemnation of sin. Every act of worship you do is unaccepted by God because you are still in your sins. Scripture says that God seeks those who worship Him in Spirit and truth. If you are not saved you can’t worship in Spirit because the Holy Spirit does not indwell you. In fact, John 3:36 says that while you are in this state the wrath of God remains on you. Until you repent and trust Christ your worship can never be accepted by Him.
- This invitation is for all who have given in to apathetic and monotonous worship. You’re only here because this is where you come on Sunday and have been doing for the last ten, twenty, thirty years. Your actions are showing forth worship but your heart is not really into it. It’s time to renew your mind and allow the Holy Spirit to break up your fallow ground.