Read Jeremiah 7:1-7
1 The LORD gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, 2 “Go to the entrance of the LORD’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the LORD! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! 3 This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:
“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. 4 But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the LORD’s Temple is here. They chant, “The LORD’s Temple is here! The LORD’s Temple is here!” 5 But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; 6 only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. 7 Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever. (NLT)
One of the problems of societies and even nations which were founded on some grasp of God’s truth is that they so often become merely religious. They continue their attachment to the form of the historic faith but neglect its substance. Only a shell remains. Even so, they rely on this shell as some sort of insurance policy against disaster.
Such was the issue in the people of God in Jeremiah’s time. They were not living out their faith. They were just going through the religious motions. They figured that since the temple was still standing they need not fear God’s disapproval. After all, the temple was a sign of God’s presence with his people. What could go wrong given the presence of the temple and thus of God?
What went wrong was the invasion of the Babylonian army and a long and painful exile. The Israelites had trusted in the symbol and neglected what the symbol represented. They took comfort in the fact God was with his people but didn’t realise that if God was with his people he had a pretty fair idea of the wrongs they were committing. No amount of ornate temple architecture could compensate for their lack of practical godliness.
So beware of reckoning you are safe with God because of your religious devotions or rituals. No amount of cultural heritage can save you. Only the mercy of Jesus can do that. And if we have received that mercy we will show evidence of it in changed lives. Empty professions of faith and hypocritical religious observances are a menace because they mimic genuine faith and so give us a false sense of security. Why settle for such a useless religion when we can embrace real Christianity?