Pure Religion

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At BBC, we frequently highlight the corporate nature of our relationship with God. This is because the both Testaments strongly emphasise God’s corporate covenant relationship with his people. But the personal relationship with God should not be ignored. While we live in corporate relationship to God, we also relate to God in a profoundly personal way. Neither should be ignored in favour of the other.

Psalm 15 highlights something of the personal relationship with God. The corporate relationship is not entirely absent in the psalm, but there is at the same time a challenge for the individual. “O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell in your holy hill?” (v. 1). There is an exhortation here for each of us to ask that question in our personal capacity.

Let’s frame the question another way: How is your relationship with God? Asked that way, how would you answer it? What criteria would you consider as you gauged the health of your spiritual life? Would you rely on your personal Bible reading and study? Your prayer life? Perhaps, under normal circumstances, you might consider your church attendance or formal ministry involvement. Perhaps you might consider your participation in various elements of corporate worship. But what happens when those things are stripped away? What happens when you have not been able to attend worship services and partake of the Lord’s Supper for eight weeks? How does that change the way you answer the question?

Often, we separate our lives neatly into sacred and the secular. The sacred includes church activity and personal spiritual disciplines. Everything else is secular. And, when we consider our relationship to God, we default to the sacred. Our ordinary relationships with family, friends, neighbours, and enemies don’t really figure very heavily in the equation.

Psalm 15 doesn’t allow this. When David considered the question of who qualifies to live with God, his answer had nothing to do with religious jargon and practices. He made no mention of sacrifices, religious rites, or theological study. At least in this psalm, his answer was more about integrity and justice. Our relationship to God is seen in the way that we relate to and treat others. His vision of the healthy spiritual life was far more integrated than ours often is.

So, how is your spiritual life? I don’t want to discount personal spiritual disciplines, and obviously I don’t want to look down on your relationship to the body of Christ. But how are you doing in the areas that David mentions? Are you passionate about truthfulness? Do you guard your tongue? Are you careful to treat others with justice and in a Christlike manner? Do you despise what God condemns and love what he commends? Are you just in your financial dealings? Are you careful to treat the marginalised rightly?

Israel had extravagant religious practices, yet God rebuked them strongly through the prophets for their mistreatment of their neighbours. The Pharisees and Israel’s religious leaders were meticulous in their religious observances, but Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy, at least to some degree because they mistreated the vulnerable (Mark 12:40).

As you consider your relationship with God during lockdown, when church involvement and religious practice cannot figure highly on your radar, how will you answer David’s question? Yes, your Bible-reading and prayer is a crucial element in your personal devotion, and by no means to be neglected. But of equal importance is Psalm 15 behaviour. How are you treating others? Do you recognise your fellow human beings as having been created in God’s image and, recognising that, do you treat them with justice that befits the character of God?

Stated in New Testament terms, is your religion merely about spiritual practices or can you honestly characterise your faith as “pure and undefiled before God the Father” (James 1:27)? How is your walk with God?

Stuart