10 Warnings against Making Religion Your God

woman praying in faith, warnings against making religion your god

Religion is a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Many times, these practices center around the service and worship of God, or another supernatural being.

The Bible warns against false religion and hypocritical religion. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he emphasized the importance of a relationship with God. The religious elite were the targets of many of Jesus’ criticisms because they continually idolized their religion, while remaining blinded to the fulfillment of the Messiah who was before them. Faith and trust were the key components to discipleship rather than works. His teaching fulfilled the Old Testament law, which concentrated on abiding by God’s commands.

Scripture describes true God-honoring religion (James 1:26-27). As believers in Christ, pure religion takes place when one believes in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God and follows Him in a life of obedience (John 11:25-26; Romans 7:6; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 5:20).

Today, we struggle with striving to make religion our “god” out of our own desire to be in control of how we please God and show others our self-righteousness. The world sees the struggle and is often deterred by the “hypocrites” of Christianity. However, this is exactly what God warns us of throughout Scripture. Perhaps we can learn from some of these lessons today.

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    1. Bringing Meaningless Offerings and Sacrifices


    The nation of Israel made the mistake of continuously practicing the motions of their religion without reflecting on the meaning behind them. Therefore, everything they gave to God was meaningless (Isaiah 1:13-14; Amos 5:21; Micah 6:6-8). The Israelites made daily and yearly sacrifices and held feasts and fasts, yet their hearts were hard toward their Creator. When we go through the motions in worship, we are in effect doing the same thing as the Israelites.

    2. Praise and Worship from Lips Only

    God accused His people of honoring Him with their lips while hearts were far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8). Similar to giving in vain, the Lord desires more than lip service. He longs to captivate our hearts. A person who praises the name of the Lord and does not belong to Him ultimately hinders the Kingdom of God.

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    3. Judging Others' Faults and Ignoring Own Sin


    Matthew 7:1-5. Luke 6:37-42; James 4:11-12; Romans 2:1-3. Jesus rebuked those who judged others. In Matthew 7, he equated the act of judging others to finding a speck of sawdust in another’s eye while ignoring a plank in one’s own eye. When religion is our god, fear motivates us to prove that we are superior to others based on a false rating scale. We feel as though we must measure up because our identity’s foundation is earned rather than gained by grace alone.

    4. Display of Faith over Condition of Faith

    The religious elite in the first century wore exaggerated garments to display their righteousness. Their prayer shawls contained longer tassels and their prayer boxes were larger than the other Jewish practitioners. Through these garments they hoped to physically prove their piety. Yet their outward appearance did not match their faithfulness to God. Jesus illustrates this in Matthew 23:5. He teaches that the purpose behind their appearance is personal gain.

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    5. Style of Prayer over Confession of Heart


    Jesus warned his followers against publicizing their prayer life. Those who pray in public to gain reputation already receive their reward. Prayer is communion with our Heavenly Father, meant to deepen our relationship with Him. It is not a method to increase our self-righteousness. The religious elite utilized prayer to convey their own religiosity rather than to communicate with God. Similarly, the gentiles babbled incessantly to their various gods, hoping someone might hear their cries. Jesus emphasized the importance of personal confession to a personal God (Matthew 6:5-8). When religion is a god, the words are more important than the receiver of the words.

    6. Pretense without Compassion

    Jesus had no patience for those unwilling to serve. In Mark 12:38-40, he warned his hearers of the teachers of the law who elicit respect and honor, yet refuse to show mercy to widows. Jesus warned that these teachers do not practice what they preach and should not be listened to (Matthew 23:3-4). When religion is an idol, the worshipper desires to be known for their “success” in their religion.

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    7. Deceiving Others and Themselves


    Jesus warned people of the deceptive teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees. In Mark 23:13-15, he accused them of closing the door to the kingdom of God to themselves and others. They saw righteousness as outward obedience to the law rather than internal repentance of the heart. This backward thinking distorted the gospel of grace and promoted a message of legalism and performance. This works-based approach to salvation continues to be preached today. Therefore, it is important to stand guard against false teaching.

    8. Following the Details of the Law while Ignoring the Heart of the Law

    Jesus calls out the inverted priorities of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24. While they tithed even their spices, they neglected the important matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Rather than measuring out a tenth of every small amount owned, they should have looked out for the needs of others. It is not that tithing was unimportant, but rather that they upended their priorities.

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    9. Clean on the Outside and Corrupt on the Inside


    On several occasions, the Pharisees confronted Jesus about his religious practices. He healed on the Sabbath, allowed his disciples to eat without ritually washing, and did not require his disciples to fast. Jesus declared a woe to the Pharisees for their hypocritical nature because they concerned themselves with external cleanliness rather than the corruption of the heart (Matthew 15:11; Matthew 23:25-28). When we focus on outward practices of Christianity, and neglect our spiritual relationship with Christ, we do the equivalent to what the Pharisees did in the First Century.

    10. Finding Loopholes in the “Laws”

    The religious elite in Jesus’ time were notorious for elaborating on and finding loopholes in the Mosaic law in order to accomplish selfish gain (Matthew 19:3-9; Matthew 23:16-28; Mark 7:9-13). Jesus called the Pharisees out for placing tradition ahead of God’s word in the practice of Corban. This is the reason why Jesus teaches against swearing in Matthew 5:33-37. Jesus’ greatest desire for his followers is to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves. The loopholes existed as an escape to these main laws. These were ways the religious leaders could feel good about not doing what was charitable or challenging.

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    5 Warning Signs You Might Be Making Religion Your God


    You Judge Those around You

    Do you notice if a stranger is having a glass of wine? Do you grumble when you hear a neighbor use an inappropriate word? How do you respond when you pass by a certain book in a bookstore? Perhaps these responses could indicate that you might be quick in passing judgement on someone else when you need to examine your own heart.

    You Feel Guilty When You “Miss” a Religious Practice

    When I was a teenager, my church had offering envelopes where you checked off each “spiritual discipline” you accomplished that week. Some items included Bible reading, Scripture memory, and bringing an offering. I remember as a young teen, wanting to be able to check off each box every Sunday. Any time I was unable to check off a box, I felt a tremendous sense of guilt. The feeling was not a result of my lack of relationship with God, but rather from what I thought “others” would think of my lack of spirituality over the week. I believe this same sense arises when we allow religion to be our god. Guilt consumes us when our legalistic expectations are not met.

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    3. You Carefully Display Your Religion Publicly while Hiding other Areas of Your Life


    Throughout history, there have always been ways to “display” your religion to the world. This might have been through a hairstyle, a particular wardrobe, a piece of jewelry, or a way you communicate. If you find yourself carefully crafting your image or message in public and yet hiding particular elements about your life, there might be a chance your religion is your God. Ask yourself, what is the reason behind the deception?

    4. You Make Your Religion Profitable

    The number of “religious” millionaires is astounding. The prosperity gospel is a false doctrine that utilizes some of the words of Jesus while neglecting some of His harsher teachings. While God does indeed bless and reward people, if you utilize the message of Jesus in order to personally gain, this could indicate that you are making religion your God.

    5. Your Worship Is More about You Than God

    Have you ever walked out of a worship service and said, “I gained nothing from that service.” Chances are, your heart was not there with the right intent. Our attendance in worship is not just for our benefit. Rather, it is to give back a portion of what God has given to us.

    While these warnings may be difficult to hear, the goal is to lead us back to the heart of our Heavenly Father. If the world is to see Jesus in us, we need to reflect Jesus and His teachings rather than a warped religion He preached against.

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    Cortney Whiting is a wife and mom of two preteens. She received her Master of Theology Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. After serving in the church for nearly 15 years, Cortney currently teaches at a Christian school and writes for various Christian ministries. You can find her at her blog, https://recapturefaith.com.