What constitutes a devout Christian? What makes a person righteous in the eyes of a Holy God? Is it regular church attendance, tithing faithfully, helping with the kids program, passing out tracts to strangers, even teaching a Bible study or Sunday School class? Obviously, those are not bad things, but when they make up the extent of our “religion” it’s not enough.

God does not get all that excited about our attempts at righteousness. We see this in David’s confession in Psalm 51:

16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

Many other places in Scripture reveal that same idea. It really is clear that God is not after our attempts at piety or religious formality. He wants our hearts, our passions, and our energy to be totally dependent on his grace. He wants us humbled and broken.

6 Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.

– Psalm 40:6

10 Then it happened that as [e]Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and [f]sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn [g]what this means: ‘I DESIRE [h]COMPASSION, [i]AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

– Matthew 9:10-13 (NASB)

If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent.

– Matthew 12:7 (NIV)

James 1:27 tells us true religion is “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. Jesus is constantly beating the drum of having compassion and mercy on the lowly. In fact, we see this run all the way through the Bible.  And yet, at least in most churches in the U. S., we are all too busy and too self-focused to see this gaping hole in our Christian walk. Most churches focus on individual spiritual growth, corporate worship, attendance, giving, and evangelism…which are not bad things. But do we hear very often about personally helping the poor in our community, or do we just give money to the church and let the “professionals” handle that?

I personally do not do enough of this. It is so much easier to sit in the comfort of my home and examine this issue academically, be moved, get motivated, and write a blog than it is to spend a Saturday helping a single mother or finding ways to reach out to the poor in my city. However, that must change if I’m going to hear “well done good and faithful servant,” rather than “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”