The Form of Religion

By Scarlett Stough

During a lunch time conversation, a young pastor revealed his belief (or lack of it) to my husband, “The Bible is just another book,” he said. “The trouble with the people in my church is, they idolize it.”

My husband asked him, “Do you believe God exists?”

He replied, “Probably, but we can’t prove he exists. If God exists, he created through evolution.” 

This young pastor, fresh out of seminary training, had been taught the Bible is a myth. He doubted the existence of God and believed the Jesus of the Bible was a legend. He was hired to pastor a small church in a rural area, but he had no faith in God. He had a form of religion, but had no belief in the powerful love of God who answers prayers and is passionately involved in the lives of those who love him. 

The apostle Paul warned the young Timothy that in the last days people would be “holding to the form of religion but denying its power.” (II Timothy 3:1-9 HCSB) *

The hired pastor had the best education available, but, like the people in the last days, he was not “able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 3:7HCSB)

How can genuine faith survive when many pastors of Christian churches have no faith that God even exists, let alone powerful enough or caring enough to change people’s lives now and give them eternal life? 

An inspired letter written by Jude (verse 24) and preserved in the Bible gives us the answer: God “is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy.

Every Christian must be on guard against being confused and deceived by those who deny the existence and power of God. Jesus warned his followers:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-16 NIV)
The devil is a liar and a deceiver, but he masquerades as a teacher of truth. I do not believe the young pastor was a deliberate tool of the devil, but he had fallen for the lie. Now he pastors a name-brand church. How can he strengthen their faith in God when he has none himself? How can you sustain your faith in a faith-less world?

First, confirm the veracity of the Bible.

Jude asks us to:

…remember the words foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; they told you, “In the end time there will be scoffers walking according to their own ungodly desires.” These people create divisions and are merely natural, not having the Spirit.
The Bible gives us an accurate description of our world:
But know this: difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of religion but denying its power. Avoid these people!

For among them are those who worm their way into households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth, men who are corrupt in mind, worthless in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress, for their lack of understanding will be clear to all, as theirs was also. (II Timothy 3:1-9 HCSB)

The condition of the world confirms the veracity and accuracy of the Holy Scriptures. But you will have to decide whether or not to believe God exists and his word, the Bible, is his revelation to man. Faith comes first:
Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 HCSB)
Faith is a gift from God; you do not have to work it up. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Faith itself is proof: 
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 HCSB)
Second, confirm the existence of God.

Do you want to know for certain God exists? Then you must seek him. The Bible is the only source of documented quotations from the Creator God. Read it. Talk to people who show by the results of the way they live their lives that they have a genuine faith that God exists and rewards those who seek him. But first, talk to God and be honest with him about your desire to know for certain that he does exist. 

A form of religion will not produce the good results you want in your life. Church can not do that for you; only trust and obedience toward God can. God alone can give you a life worth living. The only way to God is through his Son Jesus. (John 14:6) Do not let those who ridicule or deny this Way keep you from a relationship with the God who not only has power; he uses his power with wisdom and love for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28) To know him, you must seek him. If you have a desire to seek and find God, you can be certain that he is inviting you to be his child, his friend. (John 6:44)

God does not want you to obey him out of fear of his power. If he wanted obedience at any cost, he could use force to make everyone comply. He wants you to love his character and desire to be like him---doing and thinking as he does, like small children watch and imitate their parents. He wants to share his power with you---power to love, to forgive, to be a peacemaker, and the power to rejoice in all the circumstances of your life.

Third, act on the faith God gives you.

Seek God and avoid those who practice a form of religion while they deny the power and existence of God. You can share in his power and love by receiving his Holy Spirit. You can receive his Holy Spirit by believing that Jesus is his Son and the Savior of the world. Genuine belief or faith includes a willingness to leave your own way of doing things (sin) and to turn to God and to live life his way. Trust and obey. There is no other way.

*HCSB: the Holman Christian Standard Bible. NIV: the New International Version