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Religious Ritualism

According to Duvall and Hays the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the minor prophets) write in the theological context of Deuteronomy and in the historical context of an imminent invasion by either the Assyrians (against Israel) or the Babylonians (against Judah).1 Also, the prophets overall message centers around three main points:2

1. “You have broken the covenant; you had better repent.”
2. If you do not repent you will face the promised curses.
3. There is a future hope of restoration.

In the first category; the category of covenant violation, the prophets give three subcategories demonstrating how Israel/Judah broke the covenant:3

1. Idolatry
2. Social Justice
3. Religious Ritualism

What is Religious Ritualism?

It is on the subject of religious ritualism that I would like to speak today. I am not an Israelite; and therefore, not held to a Deuteronomic code of ethics. I am a Christian bound to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christian ethics have commonalities with the Deuteronomic code, we serve the same God. Therefore, we can glean from the theological principles given in the prophet’s indictments.4

When I read the remarks made by the prophets regarding religious ritualism, I come away with an understanding that God desires to have a relationship with us and He is not impressed by our religious rituals. God wanted Israel and Judah to stop worshiping Idols and to give equal justice to all.

It wasn’t as if they had stopped doing religion, but were in fact guilty of breaking what Christ said was the great and foremost commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’…The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”5

Why Should You Practice Religious Ritualism?

If you asked my wife, she would tell you that I am very ritualistic. Every morning I get up two hours before I have to leave the house, no matter the time. I do this, so that, I can spend one hour reading the Bible and praying before the day begins. I haven’t missed a morning devotion in over fourteen years.

Obviously, I think that my religious ritual of reading the Bible and praying for one hour every morning is good. I think that it is good, because it has caused me to be dependent on the Lord, to grow in faith and knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, and love my neighbor.

Be Ritualistic but Beware

Religious ritualism is bad when you do not love God or your neighbor, but do the ritual because you believe it makes you good with God. In one of the scariest passages in all of scripture the Lord said,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from ME, you who practice lawlessness.”6
I think that it is one of the scariest passages in all of scripture, because the Lord was speaking to men who practiced religious ritualism. Religious ritualism is good when it causes you to draw closer to God and love your neighbor, but very bad when you do the ritual because you believe it makes you good with God. If your religious ritual is not about a relationship with your creator then repent.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 403.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, 403-405.
[4] Ibid, 410.
[5] Mat 22:37 & 39, NASB.
[6] Mat 7:21-23, NASB.


Duvall, J. Scott, and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. Third. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
The Holy Bible Updated New American Standard Bible. La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

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