What is Vain Worship?

Wes  —  February 15, 2017

In Mark 7:7 Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying, “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” But what did Jesus mean about worshiping in vain? I’ve heard many people explain that “vain worship” is worshiping God in unauthorized ways. One website claims it is “when we worship the way we want” instead of worshiping “the way God has told us in His word” (source). Unfortunately, I think that definition of “vain worship” ignores the context of Jesus’ word and gives the wrong impression about vain worship.

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People tell me all the time, their main goal in life is to go to heaven when they die. In fact, I’m quite certain I’ve said the exact same thing before. I’ve always thought that was the very best goal a person could have, but I’ve changed my mind. The more I think about that phrase, and especially the context in which it is usually stated, the more I think it often reveals a misunderstanding deep in our hearts. Here are a few thoughts on having heaven as a our main goal in life.

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The term “false teacher” gets thrown around a lot; but the definition might not be as obvious as it seems. Many people probably assume a false teacher is simply someone who teaches something that’s false. But that’s not really how the Bible uses that term. And I believe we must use biblical terms in biblical ways. Let’s examine what a false teacher is and why we should be careful calling someone a false teacher.

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We often say things like, “We’re all sinners.” Or, “I’m a sinner, the same as anyone else.” There is certainly some truth to those statements. We are certainly all guilty of sin and we all still struggle with sin. However, the Bible doesn’t really use the word “sinner” to refer to faithful Christians. Let’s talk about why Christians aren’t called sinners and why it may be detrimental to your life to think of yourself as a sinner.

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While there are certainly “churches” and preachers who are taking advantage of the generosity of their members and giving Christianity a bad name, we should not allow that to stop us from talking about how and why Christians should give money to the church regularly. The New Testament says a lot about money and one of the things is says is that how you feel about money is an indication of your spiritual maturity and your love for God (Matthew 6:24; 1 Timothy 6:10). So, you should really stop and examine how and why you give.

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When the children of Israel were going into the Promised Land, God gave them a law. The law was part of His covenant relationship with them. But after Jesus came, many Jewish Christians wanted to know what role the law should continue to play in their lives. Were Christians obligated to keep the law? If not, what was to keep them from living sinfully? The apostle Paul boldly claimed that Christians “are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Could that really be true? If so, what would that look like? What would that mean?

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We might say the beginning of the Restoration Movement in the United States was in 1809 when Thomas Campbell uttered these now famous words, “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” This wasn’t the beginning of the church, but it was the beginning of a movement to restore the “unity, peace, and purity” of Christ’s church. Over 200 years later, the spiritual descendants of this movement have far too many divisions. I believe it is time to be reminded of Campbell’s plea for unity.

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We attend Bible classes, Bible studies, devotionals, and worship services. We read our Bibles and listen to sermons. We memorize passages of Scripture. But do we ever stop and ask ourselves, “What’s the point of all of this?” What are we really trying to accomplish? Is the goal to impress God and others with our biblical knowledge? Is the goal to know all the stories? Is the goal to know all the rules, so we don’t accidentally break one? Here is what the Bible says is the whole point of Christian teaching.

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As a member of the Millennial generation, I am painfully aware that many in my age group are leaving the church. While I certainly understand why life in the church can be difficult and even frustrating at times, I love the church so much that I have devoted my life to her and to her mission. So here are four of the reasons I am thankful for the church.

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It is biblical to speak of “obeying the gospel,” although I’m sad to say that the way I’ve most often used that phrase is not very biblical. I’ve often said, when someone was baptized, “He obeyed the gospel,” as if obeying the gospel was something that was accomplished by being baptized. That is not a very biblical way to speak of someone “obeying the gospel.” It is so much more than being baptized, because a person is never finished obeying the gospel.

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