Devotional Thoughts for Today
The AMI QT Devotionals from May 28-June 2 are provided by Pastor Joshua Kim of Church of Southland. Joshua, a graduate of Emory University and Columbia Theological Seminary (M.Div.), serves as the pastor of Access (singles) Community at the Church of Southland. He is married to Christina.
“The Religion of Just Fulfilling Obligations”
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house and proclaim there this word and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’” 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ 5 For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
Growing up in Salt Lake City, UT, I had the unique experience of getting to know Mormons in close proximity. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met. But many of my friends who grew up in the Mormon church participated simply because that’s what they were supposed to do. I was talking to a high school friend of mine who was getting ready to go on his 2-year mission trip with the LDS church. I was curious because I knew his negative feelings toward the religion he grew up in, which showed in his lifestyle choices. But despite these feelings, he told me, “I don’t know if I really believe in this stuff, but this is what I’m supposed to do.”
We see this dynamic in todays’ passage. One of the central representations of the Hebrew faith was the temple. It was symbolic of God’s presence amongst the people. So when we consider Jeremiah’s prophetic act of standing at the gate of the Lord’s house, physically blocking people from entering the temple, this is a huge deal: he is literally blocking the people from God’s presence. This physical act embodied the judgment of God upon the people.
God wanted to address the attitude of the people who felt safe/justified/righteous/etc. simply because of their practice of coming to the temple and offering their worship and sacrifices. We know from verses 5-7, their lives beyond the temple did not reflect the kind of reverence they may have displayed within the temple courts. In other words, just like my high school friend, their faith was mere token ritual, limited to certain part of their life. It did not transform their hearts, which showed in their lifestyle. And God would not allow this to continue.
How about us today? If we were to be honest, we have or can remember moments where our thoughts were uncomfortably similar to my friend or even the people in this passage. We are reminded in this passage that our relationship with God is not merely satisfying certain procedures. It is not about fulfilling quotas or checklists. It is a vibrant, love relationship with the Most High God that cannot but transform the way we live.
Prayer: Father, thank You that You first pursued a deep relationship with us. You did not create us to practice empty religion; you created us to enjoy and experience Your love in ways that bring You glory. Forgive us for those moments where it simply becomes about the physical, religious acts, and change us in ways that only Your love can. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Ezekiel 1
Lunch Break Study
Read James 2.14-26: What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Questions to Consider
- What is the passage saying in terms of the relationship between works and faith? How might this be different from how we often understand these two things?
- To be clear, what is the passage not saying when it comes to work and faith (specifically in regards to salvation)?
- Take a moment to reflect: in light of this passage, how should we pray for ourselves?
- Especially if you pay attention to how the passage is translated, James in verse 18 makes clear that faith is shown BY works. Oftentimes, it is tempting for us to separate the two, especially because of what we will address in question 2. True faith will always lead to righteous works because true faith is transformative. We cannot remain the same when we have a relationship with God in faith.
- What we must be careful is that this passage does not suggest that we earn our faith or salvation through works. This is not a prooftext of work-based salvation. It’s perhaps this reason that we tend to shy away from what James wants to get at: our faith must reveal itself in our works.
- Personal reflection. Perhaps some of the things you can pray is for courage to live out your life in such a way that reflect who you believe God to be and what He has done for you. Perhaps others, God is calling you to check your busyness in serving or your “works” that might be overshadowing a truth faith relationship with Him.
Taking the last question from today’s lunch study, pray those things over yourself as you end the day. Pray as one who believes our God truly wants an intimate relationship with us; that God can and will transform us. Don’t forget to take a moment to allow Him to respond. Listen for His voice.