The common sentiment in today’s religious world is that it does not matter what we believe and practice in religion, as long as we are sincere. Some believe every religion has some truth and some error, and we can accept the truth and reject the error and still be pleasing to God. In other words, we can worship any way we like, or no way at all, and that will be acceptable. That brings us to the question in the title of this article--does what we believe and practice in religion matter to God?
The question is not "Does it matter to me?" The question is "Does it matter to God?" We can know what pleases God. The Holy Spirit revealed God’s mind to the apostles, who wrote it down for us to know (1 Corinthians 2:13; Ephesians 3:3-4). We do not have to guess or be led astray, we can, by reading and studying His word, know if we are pleasing God. The Bible also teaches us that, without God's assistance, we cannot know how to please Him. Proverbs 14:12 teaches, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." Jeremiah wrote, "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps." (Jeremiah 10:23) These verses teach the folly of trying to decide for ourselves what is pleasing to God.
In this article, we want to notice some passages from God's word that clearly and forcefully teach that God does care about how we worship and serve Him. We will also notice that some religious people who may have been sincere in their false worship were, nonetheless, not acceptable to God.
Cain and Abel both offered sacrifices to God. God accepted Abel's offering, but He rejected Cain's (Genesis 4:3-7). We know, from Hebrews 11:4, that Abel offered his sacrifice by faith; that is, he offered it in accordance with God’s word (Romans 10:17). Cain may have been sincere. He may have offered the best there was in his garden, but God rejected it. Of Cain’s offering, 1 John 3:12 says, "Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." Obviously, it mattered to God!
The Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments illustrate the exclusive nature of worship. God regulated worship. He told the Israelites what was and what was not acceptable. He placed blessings upon obedience and curses upon disobedience. In Exodus 20:2-6, God stated that idolatry was wrong and would not be tolerated. He specifically commanded them not to bow down to idols and to direct all worship to Him and Him alone. There was no right way to worship an idol!
In several Old-Testament passages, God used the terms harlotry and adultery to refer to those who departed from Him to serve idols. He also used these terms to refer to those who tried to serve both idols and Him (Ezekiel 16 and 23). These are expressions that mature adults can clearly understand. We all want our spouses to be faithful, and we would be highly upset if one of them claimed to love us dearly, but played the harlot with another. God is unwilling to accept anything less than whole-hearted, faithful service. “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3)
The example of Nadab and Abihu (Levitcus 10:1-3) should impress upon our minds that God does not accept all worship. His children may offer the worship, and at the time directed, but if they do not worship as commanded, He will not be pleased, and He will not accept it. God regulates worship, and He restricts it to that which He has specified.
Nadab and Abihu were the right people to offer the sacrifice. They were priests of God. They offered the sacrifice at the right time and at the right place. But, Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire, or we can say profane fire, on the altar. This means that the fire they offered was not consecrated or holy. It was not the fire God authorized; therefore, it was strange fire, and God did not accept it. He burned a lesson into the minds of the Israelites--He is holy, and those who come before Him must also be holy. "Then Moses said unto Aaron, ‘This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’" (Leviticus 10:3-4) If we do not glorify God in our worship, then we worship in vain.
A prime example of the exclusiveness of true religion is that of Elijah and the Mount Carmel contest with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). Through His prophet Elijah, God called for this contest (1 Kings 18: 1). In the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, we observe what appear to be very sincere Baal worshippers. For many hours, they called upon their god, leaped about, and cut themselves, as was their practice (1 Kings 18:26-29). Then Elijah called upon the Lord God, and God answered with fire. Elijah, as the Law of Moses required, ordered the prophets of Baal executed (1 Kings 18:40). These prophets may have been very sincere, but their sincerity did not change the fact they were wrong, and God did not overlook it.
There is one true God, one right way to worship God, and God has given that way. When people, no matter how sincere they may be, deviate from God's standard, God does not accept their worship. What we do in religion does matter to God.
Naaman went to Elisha, a prophet of God, to have him cure his leprosy (2 Kings 5). The prophet instructed Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10). At first, Naaman was insulted by Elijah’s command. It did not meet with his preconceived ideas, so he went away in a rage. His servant convinced him to obey the simple command, and when he obeyed, God cleansed him of his disease (2 Kings 5:13,14).
Before his servants spoke with him, Naaman suggested other ways that he might be cleansed. "But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, ‘Behold, I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage." (2 Kings 5:11-12) Could Naaman be sincere and dip in any other river? Could he be sincere and dip less than seven times? Obviously he could, but his sincerity would not change God’s simple command. Why not just obey? The servants’ reasoning is something we all need to emulate in our lives. What mattered to God, where Naaman was concerned, was humble obedience. He needed to have faith and trust in God to heal him; trust is evidenced by obedience. God wanted to heal Naaman, and He provided the means to heal him, but in order to receive the blessings God had for him, Naaman had to comply with God's command. Naaman could choose whether to accept or reject God’s blessings.
Let's look at the New-Testament practice of taking the Lord's Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 we read, "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, ‘Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.’" Paul received this teaching from the Lord. It was revealed through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-13). Why did the Holy Spirit reveal this to Paul? If God doesn’t care how we worship Him, why would He reveal anything?
We also learn that the early church observed the Lord's Supper on the first day of each week (Acts 20:7). Again, why would the Holy Spirit reveal this if God doesn’t care when we observe the Lord's Supper? Does the Bible contain a command, necessary inference, or example of people worshipping God, or for that matter, any other being, whenever they wish and in whatever way they choose?
If sincerity is the only criteria for acceptance by the one true God, then why, under apostolic guidance and command, did the first-century Christians meet on the first day of the week, observe the Lord's Supper, pray, give as they prospered, preach, and sing praises from their hearts (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Ephesians 5:19; Acts 2:42)? Why did the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul’s pen, command us to do all things by the authority of Christ (Colossians 3:17)? Why did the Holy Spirit command us to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11)?
It does matter to God, and teaching to the contrary is a lie from Satan. Do not believe Satan’s lies. Study God's word; learn what He would have you to do; and do it. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Brother Alexander has done a masterful job of showing the clarity of the Scriptures concerning this matter. How can people claim to love God, put His kingdom first, desire to please Him in every way, admit He is their Lord, and then disregard what His book teaches? It’s absolutely unbelievable!
Let‘s consider some questions to ponder concerning whether it “really matters.”
Honesty would compel every person reading these questions to say it really would matter. Why are people so blind when it comes to worshipping God on His terms, rather than their own? Is it because they want to believe that God designed worship to suit the worshippers, rather than the One they are worshipping? If so, they’re wrong! “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23,24)
Please give careful attention to the words written in God’s book. Through them, He revealed His mind to us. Why would He give us the words of life if it really doesn’t matter whether we follow them? Can you locate even one Bible example where God blessed the people for going against His directions? Good luck! (KMG)