Man has been called a religious animal. The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics lists hundreds of ways in which men have tried to satisfy their religious longings and feelings. They have worshipped the sun, moon and stars; earth, fire and water idols of wood, stone and metal; fish, birds and animals. They have worshipped countless gods and spirits which have been the products of their own perverted imagination. Others have attempted to worship the true God through a vast variety of sacrifices, ceremonies, sacraments and services. But ‘religion’, however sincere, can never solve man’s sin problem, for at least three reasons.
Religion can never satisfy God. Religion is man’s attempt to make himself right with God, but any such attempt is futile because even man’s best efforts are flawed and so are unacceptable to God. The Bible could not be clearer: all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). God demands perfection; religion fails to meet the demand.
Religion can never remove sin. Your virtues can never cancel out your vices. Good deeds can never remove bad ones, If a person gets right with God it is not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:9). No religious efforts or experiences — christening, confirmation, baptism, holy communion, churchgoing, prayers, gifts, sacrifices of time and effort, Bible reading or anything else — can cancel out a single sin.
Religion can never change man’s sinful nature. A person’s behaviour is not the problem, only the symptom. The heart of man’s problem is the problem of man’s heart, and by nature man’s heart is corrupt and depraved. Going to church and taking part in religious ceremonies may make you feel good but they cannot make you good. Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one (Job 14:4)!
Some of the religious activities mentioned above are obviously ‘good’ in themselves. For example, it is right to go to church, to read the Bible and to pray, because God tells us to do these things. But you dare not rely on them to make you right with God, Not only are they powerless to do so; trusting in them actually adds to your sin and to your condemnation.