Your Religion Really Matters
1. What do some persons believe about religion?
‘ALL RELIGIONS are good,’ many people say. ‘They are simply different roads leading to the same place.’ If this were true, your religion would not really matter, for it would mean that all religions are acceptable to God. But are they?
2. (a) How did the Pharisees treat Jesus? (b) Whom did the Pharisees claim as their father?
2 When Jesus Christ walked the earth, there was a religious group known as the Pharisees. They had built up a system of worship and believed it had God’s approval. Yet, at the same time, the Pharisees were trying to kill Jesus! So Jesus told them: “You do the works of your father.” In answer they said: “We have one Father, God.”—John 8:41.
3. What did Jesus say about the father of the Pharisees?
3 Was God really their father? Did God accept their form of religion? Not at all! Even though the Pharisees had the Scriptures and thought they were following them, they had been misled by the Devil. And Jesus told them so, saying: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, . . . he is a liar and the father of the lie.”—John 8:44.
4. How did Jesus view the religion of the Pharisees?
4 Clearly, the religion of the Pharisees was false. It served the interests of the Devil, not God. So rather than viewing their religion as good, Jesus condemned it. He said to those religious Pharisees: “You shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in.” (Matthew 23:13) Because of their false worship, Jesus called those Pharisees hypocrites and poisonous snakes. Because of their bad course, he said that they were on the way to destruction.—Matthew 23:25-33.
5. How did Jesus show that the many religions are not simply different roads leading to the same place?
5 So Jesus Christ did not teach that all religions are simply different roads leading to the same place of salvation. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.” (Matthew 7:13, 14) Because they fail to worship God in the right way, most persons are on the road to destruction. Only a few are on the road leading to life.
6. What can we learn from a look at the worship of the nation of Israel?
6 A look at the way God dealt with the nation of Israel makes it clear how important it is to worship God in the way that he approves. God warned the Israelites to keep away from the false religion of the nations round about them. (Deuteronomy 7:25) Those people sacrificed their children to their gods, and they engaged in unclean sex practices, including homosexuality. (Leviticus 18:20-30) God commanded the Israelites to avoid these practices. When they disobeyed and worshiped other gods, he punished them. (Joshua 24:20; Isaiah 63:10) So their religion really did matter.
FALSE RELIGION TODAY?
7, 8. (a) What position did religion take during the world wars? (b) How do you think God feels about what religion has done during wartime?
7 What about the hundreds of religions today? Probably you agree that many things done in the name of religion are not approved by God. During the recent world wars, which millions of persons now living survived, the religions on both sides encouraged their people to kill. “Kill Germans—do kill them,” said the bishop of London. And, on the other side, the archbishop of Cologne told Germans: “We command you in the name of God, to fight to the last drop of your blood for the honor and glory of the country.”
8 So Catholics killed Catholics with the approval of their religious leaders, and Protestants did the same. Clergyman Harry Emerson Fosdick admitted: “Even in our churches we have put the battle flags . . . With one corner of our mouth we have praised the Prince of Peace and with the other we have glorified war.” How do you think God feels about a religion that claims to do his will but glorifies war?
9. (a) How have many people felt about the crimes committed by members of different religions? (b) When religion makes itself part of the world, what must we conclude?
9 Because of the crimes committed in the name of God by the members of many different religions throughout history, millions of persons today have turned away from God and Christ. They blame God for the terrible religious wars, such as those between Catholics and Muslims called the Crusades, the wars between Muslims and Hindus, and the wars between Catholics and Protestants. They point to the murder of Jews in the name of Christ, and the cruel Catholic inquisitions. Yet, even though the religious leaders responsible for such horrible crimes claimed God as their Father, were they not just as much children of the Devil as were the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned? Since Satan is the god of this world, should we not expect that he also controls the religions practiced by people of the world?—2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9.
10. What are some things done in the name of religion that you do not approve of?
10 No doubt there are many things done in the name of religion today that you do not think are right. Often you may hear about people who have very immoral ways of life, but who are respectable members of churches. You may even know about religious leaders who have a very bad way of life, but who are still accepted as good religious leaders in their churches. Some religious leaders have said that homosexuality and having sex relations without being married are not wrong. But you may know that the Bible does not say that. In fact, God had his people of Israel punished with death because they practiced such things. For the same reason he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. (Jude 7) Soon he will do the same to all modern-day false religion. In the Bible, such religion is represented as a prostitute because of its immoral relations with the “kings of the earth.”—Revelation 17:1, 2, 16.
WORSHIP THAT GOD APPROVES
11. What is required if our worship is to be acceptable to God?
11 Since God does not approve of all religions, we need to ask: ‘Am I worshiping God in the way that he approves?’ How can we know if we are? It is not any man, but God, who is the judge of what is true worship. So if our worship is to be acceptable to God, it must be firmly rooted in God’s Word of truth, the Bible. We should feel the same way as the Bible writer who said: “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.”—Romans 3:3, 4.
12. Why did Jesus say that the worship of the Pharisees was not approved by God?
12 The first-century Pharisees did not feel that way. They set up their own beliefs and traditions and followed these rather than God’s Word. With what result? Jesus told them: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition. You hypocrites, Isaiah aptly prophesied about you, when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their heart is far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.’” (Matthew 15:1-9; Isaiah 29:13) So if we want God’s approval, it is necessary that we make sure that what we believe is in agreement with the teachings of the Bible.
13. What did Jesus say we must do to be approved by God?
13 It is not enough for us to say we believe in Christ and then do what we think is right. It is absolutely necessary that we find out what God’s will is on the matter. Jesus showed this in his Sermon on the Mount when he said: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.”—Matthew 7:21.
14. Why might Jesus regard us as “workers of lawlessness” even though we were doing “good deeds”?
14 We could even be doing what we believe to be “good deeds,” and be doing these in the name of Christ. Yet all of these would be of no value if we failed to do God’s will. We would be in the position of the ones Christ next mentions: “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22, 23) Yes, we can be doing things that we think are good—and for which other humans may thank us and even praise us—but if we fail to do what God says is right we will be regarded by Jesus Christ as “workers of lawlessness.”
15. Why is the course taken by people in ancient Beroea a wise one for us to follow?
15 Since many religions today are not doing God’s will, we cannot simply assume that the teachings of the religious organization we are associated with are in agreement with God’s Word. The mere fact that the Bible is used by a religion does not of itself prove that all the things it teaches and practices are in the Bible. It is important that we ourselves examine whether they are or not. Persons in the city of Beroea were commended because, after the Christian apostle Paul preached to them, they checked the Scriptures to make sure that the things he was telling them were true. (Acts 17:10, 11) The religion that is approved by God must agree in every way with the Bible; it will not accept certain parts of the Bible and reject other parts.—2 Timothy 3:16.
SINCERITY ALONE NOT ENOUGH
16. What did Jesus say to show that sincerity alone is not enough for a person to be approved by God?
16 But someone may ask: ‘If a person is sincere in his beliefs, won’t God approve of him even if his religion is wrong?’ Well, Jesus said he would not approve of “workers of lawlessness” even though they believed they were doing what was right. (Matthew 7:22, 23) So sincerity alone would not be approved by God either. Once Jesus told his followers: “The hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God.” (John 16:2) Such killers of Christians might sincerely believe that they were thereby serving God, but clearly they were not. God does not approve of what they did.
17. Even though Paul was sincere, what did he do before becoming a Christian?
17 Before he became a Christian, the apostle Paul helped in the murder of Stephen. Later, he looked for ways to kill more Christians. (Acts 8:1; 9:1, 2) Paul explained: “To the point of excess I kept on persecuting the congregation of God and devastating it, and I was making greater progress in Judaism than many of my own age in my race, as I was far more zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:13, 14) Yes, Paul was sincere, but that did not make his religion right.
18. (a) What was Paul’s religion when he persecuted Christians? (b) Why did Paul and others in his day need to change their religion?
18 At the time, Paul was a member of the Jewish religious system, which had rejected Jesus Christ, and so it, in turn, was rejected by God. (Acts 2:36, 40; Proverbs 14:12) So to gain God’s approval Paul needed to change his religion. He also wrote of others who had “a zeal for God”—who were sincere but were not approved by God because their religion was not based on accurate knowledge of God’s purposes.—Romans 10:2, 3.
19. What shows that the truth will not allow for different kinds of religious doctrine?
19 The truth will not allow for all the different kinds of religious doctrine in the world. For example, either humans have a soul that survives the death of the body or they do not. Either the earth will last forever or it will not. Either God will bring wickedness to an end or he will not. These and many other beliefs are either right or wrong. There cannot be two sets of truth when one does not agree with the other. One or the other is true, but not both. Sincerely believing something, and practicing that belief, will not make it right if it really is wrong.
20. With regard to religion, how may we follow the correct “road map”?
20 How should you feel if proof is given that what you believe is wrong? For example, say that you were in a car, traveling for the first time to a certain place. You have a road map, but you have not taken time to check it carefully. Someone has told you the road to take. You trust him, sincerely believing that the way he has directed you is correct. But suppose it is not. What if someone points out the error? What if he, by referring to your own map, shows that you are on the wrong road? Would pride or stubbornness prevent you from admitting that you are on the wrong road? Well, then, if you learn from an examination of your Bible that you are traveling a wrong religious road, be willing to change. Avoid the broad road to destruction; get on the narrow road to life!
DOING GOD’S WILL NECESSARY
21. (a) In addition to knowing the truth, what is necessary? (b) What will you do if you learn that God does not approve of certain things you are doing?
21 It is important to know the truths of the Bible. Yet this knowledge is worthless if you do not worship God in truth. (John 4:24) Practicing the truth, doing God’s will, is what counts. “Faith without works is dead,” the Bible says. (James 2:26) To please God, then, your religion must not only be in full agreement with the Bible but also be applied in every activity of life. Therefore, if you learn that you are doing what God says is wrong, will you be willing to change?
22. What benefits may we enjoy now and in the future, if we practice true religion?
22 There are great blessings in store for you if you do God’s will. Even now you will benefit. Practicing true religion will make you a better person—a better man, husband or father, a better woman, wife or mother, a better child. It will produce in you godly qualities that will cause you to stand out among others because you do what is right. But even more, it will mean that you will be in position to receive the blessings of everlasting life in happiness and perfect health on God’s paradise new earth. (2 Peter 3:13) There is no question about it—your religion really does matter!
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Were the religious leaders who were trying to kill Jesus serving God?
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Most persons are on the broad road to destruction, Jesus said. Only a few are on the narrow road to life.
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“They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works.”—Titus 1:16.
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Because of difference of religion, Paul shared in the stoning of Christ’s disciple Stephen
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If you were on the wrong road, would pride or stubbornness prevent you from admitting it?