God’s name, I think, is taken more times in vain in churches than anywhere else. The blasphemy in the sanctuary is worse than the blasphemy in the street. Empty ceremony, superficial worship, thoughtless praise, errant doctrine, love of error, indifferent prayer, phony ritual, these things abound.
Those alarming words come from John MacArthur’s sermon, “Scripture-Twisting Tradition.” In the message, John looks at a pivotal incident in the life of Christ.
Confronted by Israel’s religious leaders, the Lord exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ empty religious tradition, and the significant barrier it posed to cultivating a right relationship with Christ. In his sermon, John explains how Israel’s religion was corrupted and overrun with pious traditions that clouded the nature of God’s law. In many ways, rabbinical tradition had usurped and replaced God’s law as the final authority for life and godliness.
Throughout His public ministry, Christ confronted the hypocritical, man-centered religion of Israel. He routinely exposed their blasphemy and self-righteousness, showing that their pious traditions had no power to cleanse sinners.
That’s a warning the church today needs to heed as well. God is not impressed with external acts of piety; He’s not glorified by mindless, worldly praise. Believers need to remember that “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
John MacArthur makes that very point in his sermon:
All true worship comes from the heart because we love God, because we love Christ, and it issues in obedience to Scripture. We don’t need tradition, we don’t need the church to interpret everything for us. There is one revelation of God that is absolutely true and it’s the Scripture, and not anything beyond this. And if we love God, we love His Word. If we love His Word, we love to obey His Word. True religion is humble love for and delight in God; humble love for and delight in Christ; humble love for and delight in the Holy Spirit, in the beauty of the holiness of our Lord, in the glory of His majesty. And this humble love leads us to love the Word and love to obey the Word.
“Scripture-Twisting Tradition” is a strong and stunning reminder of how easy it is to settle for man-made standards and traditions and fall short of the biblical worship God demands. We need to guard against such feeble substitutes, and hold fast to the perfect standard of Scripture. We need to remember that outward piety is worthless if it’s not the product of an inward love for God and His Word.