Paul lamented the unbelief of Israel and their zeal to follow the law without the knowledge of the righteousness of salvation. The Jewish people were accustomed to observing cultural tranditions and religious rituals. When Jesus lived on earth, he sought to teach them about the freedom of grace through faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Many of the Jews rejected the message of Jesus Christ and carried on with their religious customs.
We live in the dispensation of grace which teaches us that salvation is available through belief. Our acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour and our renouncing of the world. Unfortunately, some religious institutions still continue with legalistic practices. Spiritual disciplines are important for growth. The question is how do we find the balance between loving God out of relationship rather than out of religious duty.
Duty looks like going to church every Sunday, not because you have a hunger for God and desire fellowship with the saints. Rather, church attendance is used to appease our conscience and to make us feel a bit better about ourselves. This is why some people will religiously attend church every Easter, Christmas and New Year’s Sunday.
Another feature of religion is when prayer is regimented and ritualistic and sometimes focuses on empty phrases rather than a conversation with God. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). Similarly, bible reading focuses on getting through as many scriptures as possible without an understanding of the word. The result is that the word does not produce any real changes or lead to spiritual growth.
God wants us to do the things that pleases him. He wants us to serve him because we love him and want to be in relationship with him. Real love is demonstrated through desire and not duty. Doing anything mainly out of duty can become mechanical and regimented and takes the joy out of it. Our physical acts of service are not what pleases God the most, but a heart that longs for him. Being led by the spirit and walking in relationship and obedience to Christ. Hearing his voice and being able to respond because we are well acquainted with him.
“Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Proverbs 19:2).