“Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” Matthew 23:33
Religious activity and resurrection life cannot coexist. When the resurrection life of Jesus Christ comes religious activity ceases. Likewise, when one indulges in religious activity, resurrection life will be lost. Matthew 23 is one of a number of passages that record Jesus words to men who chose religious activity over life.
The men that Jesus says are still under condemnation were men who taught the Scriptures (vv 3); were present at all the religious functions (v 6); were active in and well respected by the community (v 7); they were enthusiastic in evangelism (v 15); they respected the house of God (v 16f); they were meticulous in giving the tithe (v 23) and in righteousness (vv 25-28); and they honoured the former prophets of God (v 30). They were also regular in prayer and fasting (9:14; 23:14) yet for all this, Jesus says, they remained condemned. The answer is in verse five, “they do to be seen of men.” These people believe that spiritual life is obtained through performance and so that is where their focus lay, in themselves and in others.
People who are interested in religious activity will express it in criticism, obstruction and a superior attitude toward those who are truly living resurrection life. They will be critical as the Pharisees and scribes were of Jesus and His disciples because Jesus and His disciples did not act in accordance with their understanding of the Scriptures. They believe they are superior to those who are humble before the Lord (Luke 18:9-14).
Religious activity does not only apply to false religions but sadly it is also in the Christian church. In John 10:10 Jesus is recorded as saying, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” He says “life” not activity. We must not confuse activity and life. The difference lies in the motive of the heart.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and, “I am the true vine … abide in Me and I in you … without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 4, 5). Apart from this life we may exhaust ourselves with activity for no spiritual fruit. When the Lord’s assessment of our works is revealed it would be immeasurably sad to discover that all we have produced is wood, hay and straw that will be destroyed by fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
When we complain about the structure and administration of the church and make no comment about the lack of resurrection life are we not merely practicing religious activity? Do we grieve over the lack of people receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and being discipled? Do we complain that the baptistery remains dry? Do we mourn for the lost?
We cannot change others by coercion or manipulation. That is not God’s way. It is a work of the Holy Spirit within the heart. We are able to ask and let Him change ourselves. Let us not mistake religious activity for resurrection life. If we do we will rob ourselves and our children of that which Jesus freely offers. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:14). “I am the bread of life” “I am the … life” (John 6:48; 14:6).