Read Jeremiah 7:1-4
1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:
“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (NIV)
At first glance, these words are a straightforward denunciation of false religion. A dangerous reliance on outward religious rituals rather than a heartfelt devotion to God. And this is true. Jeremiah warns against God’s people seeing the Jerusalem temple as some sort of magic charm which will ward off enemies and somehow guarantee God’s favour.
It does no such thing, and in time the people of Jerusalem discovered that when they were carted off to exile in Babylon. The temple couldn’t save them, and in fact was left in ruins. No amount of temple ritual could hide the fact that these people were disobeying God.
Yet what makes this even more significant is that not long before a very good king called Josiah had initiated godly reforms to the religious life of Judah. Things got much better than they had been. People rediscovered the law of God and much evil was removed from the land.
But a passage like this shows how stubborn is the human heart. Certain outward reforms had been accomplished. People came back to the temple. But somehow their hearts had not been reformed. Good king Josiah had done all he could to make the outward things right, but not even he could reform the human heart.
To paraphrase the old proverb, you can bring a person to church but you can’t make them truly worship.