Dear friends of Hope Biblical Counseling Center ,

Rarely do I send out articles by other authors. However, when I find one that is so helpful in this day of self-deception in fundamental Christianity, I want to send it along to our readers. I was educated at four different Independent Baptist schools. I did not grow up in a Christian home, therefore, I had to learn from behind. What I have found in what I was taught was a religion that was all about the “doer mentality” but not about a real, intimate, personal, and passionate relationship with the Saviour. In our counseling program I find most people are self-deceived, Galatians 6:7. They believe if they attend church, and be involved in flesh appealing activities of the church, Romans 6:11- 19, they are serving God. It is truly self-deception that ends in a spiritual disaster. The average church uses carnal, worldly methods to keep the believer “busy” and therefore their flesh is excited about it. Preaching is done in the flesh by angry pastors who are “building churches” with carnal worldly methods, instead to teaching people to have a real relationship with God. A submitted life to the Saviour is what is needed, James 4:7. It is very hard to get people who have been involved in the religious extravaganza to realize, they have to learn how to think Biblically. The Bible is the authority of my life, not what I feel. The Christian life is a submitted life to the Saviour. In every situation, I need to ask God, “What do you think about this?” Submission means I ask God questions. How do you want me to pray about this? What do you want me to pray about today? Who do you want me to witness to today? What can I praise you for today? In our Bible reading, Lord give me your message for me today? What do you want me to be, do, or have today, I John 2:15-17? It is our hope the following article will open eyes and be an encouragement to you. I would also encourage you to look at the article on our website on, How To Have A Real Relationship With God.

The following message is by Dr. Lance Ketchum, Disciple Makers Ministries, Dr.Ketchum@msn.com, WWW.DISCIPLEMAKERMINISTRIES.ORG, Dr. Lance Ketchum, 224 5th Avenue N.W., Hutchinson, MN 55350, Phone:(612) 750-5515. 

Religion Without Relationship, Confronting Our Self Deception  

Routines often degenerate into rituals and rituals into dead externalism. There are two simple realities when it comes to our self-deception about our spirituality and our natural (carnal) tendency towards worldliness.

  1. We are always willing to conform to what we want to be identified with.
  2. We always fall in the direction we lean.

“1 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 ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD. 3 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. 4 Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these. 5 For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; 6 If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: 7 Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. 8 Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. 9 Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; 10 And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? 11 Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD”(Jeremiah 7:1-11). Someone has said, “Out of sight, out of mind.” That is certainly true about God. Unless we generate considerable effort to keep God, and our relationship with Him, at the forefront of our minds, it will not be long before our Christianity slips into externalism. When that happens we begin to take God for granted and just routinely do our God-stuff.

It is work to maintain a relationship. The work it takes to maintain a relationship increases proportionately to the intimacy we want (or need) in that relationship. The difficulty is that most of us want a level of intimacy that we are unwilling to invest the time necessary to generate. That is usually true of husband/wife relationships and parent/children relationships. However, it is even truer of our relationship with God. We need intimacy with God, but we are usually unwilling to invest the time necessary to get to know Him, or to know what He expects from us in that relationship.

One thing we should all know for sure, God wants intimacy with His children and is doing everything He can do to bring us to the place where we will begin working to do what we need to do to have that intimacy. The difficulty is that we deceive ourselves into thinking we have an intimate relationship with God when we really do not. We think because we go to church regularly and pray before our meals that all is well in God-Ville. We think because we give money to the church and read our Bibles that we are doing what we need to do to have intimacy with God. I thought that way about my family for years. I thought I had a loving relationship with them because I worked hard to provide a home for them, to provide clothing for them, and food to fill their bellies. That certainly was sacrifice on my part and it certainly is an exhibition of love. It can also be just an exhibition of duty or responsibility. These provisions do not translate into intimacy with my family. In fact I can be doing all that I mentioned, providing abundantly, and still not have an intimate, loving relationship with my wife or children. Yet, like most men, I would wonder why my family did not appreciate all that I did for them. The reality was that I presumed on what did not exist. I fell into the trap of self-deception by thinking externally.

We have a horrendous propensity for thinking externally and God hates it. Church-going, Bible reading, prayer, soul winning, ministry . . . all these practices can be abundant but without joy in the doing because they are all done out of a sense of duty in the “flesh” apart from an intimacy with God.

Externalism comes in all kinds of forms and in many degrees. The nation of Israel at the time of Jeremiah was guilty of almost every form of externalism. Rules without relationship always degenerate into externalism.

Religion without relationship is equally as deadly. That is what God is saying in Jeremiah 7:4. “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.” The people of Israel had deceived themselves into thinking that everything in their lives was right with God as long as their Temple practices were in order. What a debilitating form of self-deception. It was religion without relationship. Religion without relationship tends to generate into a worship of form and practice that lacks in any real heart motivation for real ministry and any real concern for souls and lives. That may be the reason why change is so resisted in these kinds of local churches. People do not want to change the way they do things because they have come to worship the form and practice of their religion. The worship of form and practice makes ministry a substitute for (or is misinterpreted as) a real relationship with God.

Forms and practices do not demand transparency in our own lives, genuine heartfelt concern for people, or a desire for intimacy with God. Yet form and practice easily mislead us into thinking, all is well in God-Ville, when in reality our form and practice generates a stench that reaches to the throne of God.

130 years before writing the admonition given by Jeremiah, God would speak through the prophet Isaiah words that communicated His heart regarding the stench of religion without relationship. It is a message that is as timely and true in the Laodician period of Church history as it was it the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah. “11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:11-17). God’s solution to this fiasco of superficiality is simple.

God’s solution takes two directions. First, in Isaiah 1:16 He directs His children to clean-up their lives. They were to separate themselves from the carnal, worldliness that preoccupied their lives and consumed their time. They were commanded to “cease” doing evil. Here is where rules without relationship become a problem. Why were the lives of the children of Israel consumed with selfish priorities and worldliness? Why do Christians struggle with and argue about practices that are clearly worldly? The answer is simple; they have religion without a personal, intimate relationship with God that generated a dead externalism. Therefore, they viewed God’s commandments as intrusions upon their lives and restrictions upon the things they found pleasure in. They thought temporally. They lived temporally. Their religious practices were simply a means to manipulate God into providing them the things they needed and wanted. They did not approach God in worship with an open transparency, seeking intimacy with Him.

Secondly, God instructs His children to begin to do what was right (“learn to do well,” v. 17). We think that we will start ministering to people once we get a burden for people. That will never happen and that is the reason ministry never begins in many people’s lives. We get a burden for people when we begin to get involved in their lives. Why does God want His children to minister? God wants His children to minister because that is where His heart is. He wants us to be concerned about people the way He is.

James said almost exactly the same thing as Isaiah regarding what defines “pure religion.” True Christianity (the practice of the faith) must translate itself into a genuine compassion for people or it is “dead.”

“26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:26-27). Externalism will never look at a drunkard with a broken heart for his soul, but you can be sure that is the way God sees him. Externalism (and self-righteousness) sees through the eyes of contempt, not compassion. Externalism will never see a bus-kid the way God sees him. Externalism will never see that kid with compassion for his soul. Externalism will never be willing to reach out and touch his life with a consistent investment of love and time and effort to bring him to Christ and disciple him so as to help him escape the prison of the degradation of the life patterns his parents have been building into him. Externalism will never try to bring the life transforming message of gospel into his home to try to reach his family. Because of that, his soul will slip through the cracks of God’s hand (the local church) to fall limp, broken, and wasted on the hopeless and helpless heap of sin-soaked souls. God speaks to this externalism and its results in Jeremiah 2:13. This verse speaks clearly to this issue. It deals specifically with religion without relationship. “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

In this verse, God speaks of two evils generated in the lives of people who are more concerned with duties for God than they are with relationship with God. They have the order backwards. When they cultivate intimacy with God the duties God expects will flow from that fountain of intimacy like living waters. God is the “fountain of living waters.” The only way for those “living waters” to flow through our lives is when we are connected to the Godhead by a living, loving, and holy relationship. We forsake the potential of those “living waters” flowing through our lives when we forsake our relationship with God.

The second evil was that they created their own manmade sources of fulfillment to sustain them spiritually (what ever form this takes, it is idolatry). These were manmade sources for personal fulfillment or happiness. This is what God calls “broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” In other words, these manmade inventions will never be able to accomplish what they were made to do. They are superficial and self deceiving.

This is what God is referring to in Jeremiah 7:4 and 8 when He says, “ye trust in lying words.” He is talking about this self-deception. We are lying to ourselves when we have religion without relationship. Externalism is idolatry. Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 in Matthew 15:8 and applies it to the Pharisees. How accurately this describes religion (ministry) without relationship. “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). How can we escape the deadly deception that generates such a facade and sham of Christianity? The only way to escape it is by being brutally honest with ourselves and to God. We need to take three basic steps. Each step moves us away from the world and closer to God. Each step involves the believer in communicating with God and allowing God to communicate directly to that yielded believer’s heart. The first step towards intimacy with God begins with prayer. Our prayer life must be willing to communicate with God about every integral detail of our lives. Be sure of this, you will never shock God or surprise Him with what is going on in your life. He already knows and is working to help you get victory. Getting that victory begins by you coming to Him and talking with Him about everything that is going on in your life. If you do not learn to communicate with God about the details of your thought life, the details of your so-called secret sin-life, and the details of your struggles with temptation, do not expect intimacy with Him.

The second step towards intimacy with God involves your devotional life. We have devotions to cultivate being devoted. Being devoted to God will not happen by accident. Cultivation of devotion to God comes when we are driven to know Him. The Bible expresses that concept by the words hungering and thirsting after righteousness. (Matthew 5:6). God’s promise to those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” is that “they shall be filled.” Devotions is not just about reading your Bible and praying every day. Devotions is about being consumed with knowing God intimately, personally, and seeking His face.

Lastly, when these previous two things become a reality in your life you will naturally involve yourself in the “work of the ministry.” If we have cultivated a love relationship with God, we will gain His heart. His heart is burdened to reach the lost. His heart is burdened for the recovery of sinners and their deliverance from the bondage of sin in their lives. If we are not driven by a concern about the things God is concerned about, our Christianity is nothing more than externalism. Fruitful ministry will naturally flow from a life through which God overflows. When God finally gets a hold of your heart and you get a hold of His, He will overflow (“fruit of the Spirit”).

“37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).

If that is what you want to see in your life, you are going to have to seriously evaluate your priorities. The flow of that “living water” will begin when your heart and God’s heart are one. It will not be just a trickle. It will be a flood.