Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 8, 1953
NUMBER 22, PAGE 3,5b

To Be Religious Is Not Enough

Thomas Allen Robertson, San Bernardino, California

One of the more common ideas in the religious world today is that a man is acceptable to God as long as he is honest, devout, and sincere, and practices regularity in some form of worship which is directed toward God. But as we turn to the Bible we find many ways in which one's religion may be vain. Christ said, "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matt. 15:9) James said, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." (James 1:26) Thus we have introduced the idea and possibility of vain worship or religion. Since we have the possibility of vain worship we can see that to be religious is not enough. So we ought to investigate to find out why it is not enough to be religious.

Christianity Is Religion, But Not All Religion Is Christianity

As we look at man as a whole we find that he is by nature a religious being. In every age and locality man is a worshipping creature. But by nature man will worship many false gods. Nature declares that there is a God (Psalms 19:1), but nature does not tell man who God is or how to worship him.

When we say that a man can be religious and yet be a sinner we are not attacking his honesty, sincerity, nor the warmth of his religion. We are simply stating the fact that a man can be honest, but honestly mistaken; sincere, but sincerely in error; religious, but religiously wrong.

Man can be a very religious worshipper and yet be a sinner. The Pharisees came under this classification because Christ told His disciples to beware of the doctrines of the Pharisees. (Matt. 16:11,12) And in Matthew 5:20 Christ said, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Then the man who worships but doesn't control himself is a vain worshipper. (James 1:26) Also, the man who teaches for doctrines the commandments of men is a vain worshipper. (Matt. 15:9) So, man can be religious and yet be a sinner.

How Men Can Be Religious, Yet Be Sinners:

1. Man can be religious and yet be a sinner by worshipping the wrong God. There are many cases of this in the Bible and God has always condemned it. God was exceedingly wroth when Aaron made the golden calf and the people bowed down to worship it, and but for Moses God would have destroyed the people. (Exodus 32:1-14) The first of the Ten Commandments prohibited the making of a graven image or the worship of a graven image. (Exodus 20:2-5) And Christ said no man can serve two masters. (Matt. 6:24) The people of Athens were "very religious" yet they needed to repent. (Acts 17:22-32) Also we find that the people of Ephesus and of Asia were very religious, so much so that they thought the image of Diana, had come down from heaven. But they were sinners and needed to be saved, and Paul taught and persuaded men that they be no gods which are made with hands. (Acts 19:24-35) Thus men can be religious and yet be sinners by worshipping the wrong god.

2. Men can be religious and yet be sinners by worshipping the true God in the wrong way. If we omit, substitute, or add to that which God has commanded of us we are not acceptable with God. Peter said, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever." (1 Peter 4:11) We are not glorifying God unless we speak and serve him as he wants us to. Again, John said, "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." (Rev. 22:18,19) This has always been God's attitude toward His revealed will for in the Old Testament He said, "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." (Deut. 12:32) There are many examples in the Bible of people worshipping the true God and yet being sinners.

Cain and Abel are examples of this. Cain and Abel both worshipped the same God. But God had respect unto Abel's offering and rejected Cain's. (Gen. 4:1-16) Abel by faith offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. (Heb. 11:4) Since Abel moved by faith to offer that which was pleasing unto God he was accepted while Cain was not.

Moses is another example of this very point. Once God told Moses to strike the rock and water would come forth. This Moses did and all was well. (Exodus 17:6-7) On another occasion God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would come forth. Instead of speaking to the rock Moses smote the rock and gave not God the glory. Because of this seemingly small infraction of God's command Moses was not allowed to bring the congregation into the land that God had given them. (Numbers 20:7-13)

3. One may also be religious and yet be a sinner by worshipping the true God, yet never having obeyed the true gospel of Christ. A classic example of this is Cornelius the Roman centurion. Of him the Bible says he was, "A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway." (Acts 10:2) Morally and religiously this man's character would measure up to the character of any alive today. Yet we learn that he was not saved for he was told to send for Peter "Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." (Acts 11:14) If goodness and morality alone would have saved, this man would surely have been saved. But it takes more than goodness for one to be acceptable unto God, hence Cornelius had to send for Peter to learn what to do to be saved.

The Ethiopian eunuch is another example of a religious person who needed to be saved. This eunuch had come all the way from Ethiopia to worship God after the manner of the Jews. His great religious interest is demonstrated in that as he rode along in his chariot he was reading and meditating upon the scriptures. And as, the eunuch thus rode along in his chariot and pondered upon the word of God he was joined in his chariot by Philip who, "began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (Acts 8:35,36) Isn't it strange, in the light of modern denominational teaching, that when Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch it made him want to be baptized? In answer to the eunuch's question about baptism Philip said, "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him." (Acts 8:37,38) Thus a man who had been a religious sinner became a child of God.

On the day of Pentecost we have Jews from all over the earth assembled to worship God. Of these men the Bible says they were "devout men." (Acts 2:5) Yet following the sermon of Peter, in which he convinces them that they have crucified the Son of God, we find them asking, "Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:37,38) So, the Jews on Pentecost are another example of how men can be religious and yet be in their sins.

For a man's worship to be acceptable he must have faith in Christ, (John 8:24) repent of past sins, (Luke 13:3) and confess faith in Christ before men, (Matt. 10:32, 33) be baptized into Christ, (Mark 16:16) and then live as Christ has commanded. (Matt. 28:20)

4. Another way in which one may be religious and yet be a sinner is by being a true worshipper, a child of God, yet not living as God would have him to. One of the earliest examples of this is Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit. As the incident is recorded in the New Testament Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of land and Ananias brought a part of the price and laid it at the feet of the apostles leaving the impression that what he had brought was all of it. Peter told Ananias that he had not lied unto men but unto God and he fell down and gave up the ghost. About three hours later his wife came in, and when questioned, told the same lie and Peter asked her why they had agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord, and she likewise yielded up the ghost. (Acts 5:1-10)

Other examples of Christians in danger of being lost are the Corinthians who were committing the sin of division, (1 Cor. 3:1-3) and suffering fornication to be committed in their midst without opposition. (1 Cor. 5:113) Also the Galatians who were going back under the Old Law and trying to be justified by it. Of them Paul said, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4) Could it be made more obvious that a Christian can so sin as to be lost than it is made by these passages which we have just examined?

Admonitions To Children Of God:

Because of the fact that one can be religious and yet be a sinner by being a Christian, a child of God, and yet not living as God would have him to the Bible is full of admonitions to the children of God. Paul said, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor. 10:12) Also, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves." (2 Cor. 13:5) And again, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Gal. 6:1) If a child of God can't sin so as to be lost, to what is the man in Galatians 6:1 to be restored? Peter said, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." (2 Peter 1:10) James said, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." (James 5:19,20) Can the danger and the warning be stated in a clearer manner than that?

Let us study the word of God that we be truly the children of God and not just religious sinners. The word of God clearly teaches that simply to be religious is not enough.