Can you imagine getting drunk Saturday night and then going to church the next morning? Can you imagine rolling out of a bed you share with your live-in lover, getting dressed, and going to church? Can you imagine having beer on your breath as you attend a church service? Can you imagine not paying a bill you owe and then trying to worship with the person to whom you owe it?
As a pastor, I’ve seen professing Christians do these things. Each time I was left to wonder about the mentality that could create such behavior. I’m sure that Ananias and Sapphira would have some thoughts on this subject. They lied about their level of commitment to the Lord and were struck dead after bringing their offering to the apostles (Acts 5:1-11). Nadab and Abihu would have some thoughts, too. They were devoured in flames as they attempted to perform their priestly duties while under the influence of alcohol (Leviticus 10:1-11).
The hard, cold truth is that if God still imposed such high standards for worship, we’d be seeing a lot of funerals in our churches today. The current status quo reminds me of the worshipers of Amos’ time. Even though the northern kingdom of Israel was wicked to the core, the citizens were still faithfully attending their supposed “worship” services at Bethel and Gilgal. Amos sarcastically mocked these services by saying, “Come to Bethel and transgress. At Gilgal, multiply transgression” (Amos 4:4).
Far too many Christians seem to have the idea that sprinkling church attendance onto their sins makes those sins more acceptable. Do they not realize that a rotten egg is still a rotten egg no matter how much sugar you pour on it? Going to church might ease your conscience a little and make you feel better about yourself, but it won’t impress God. You can attend a hundred different services in a hundred different churches and still not do any substantive business with Him until you repent of the sins that characterize your life Monday through Saturday.
1 Samuel chapter 15 will preach. That chapter records how God spoke through the prophet Samuel, commanding King Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites. That meant that every Amalekite man, woman, child, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey was to be put to death. Saul, however, didn’t fully carry out that command. Instead, he took Amalek’s king as a prisoner of war and spared the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, and lambs.
Samuel went out to see Saul, and Saul boasted to him, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” With words dripping of sarcasm, Samuel responded, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of oxen which I hear?” When Saul explained that he planned to offer the animals as sacrifices to God, Samuel told him, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”
Samuel was teaching Saul that no amount of “worship” can make up for rank disobedience. You can “play church” all you want, but God will never ignore the fact that He hears the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen in your life. As Saul described the spectacular sacrifices he was planning to offer up as “worship,” Samuel might as well have said to him, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you because the fruits of your disobedience are drowning out your voice.”
1 Peter 4:17 says: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God…” Peter wrote those God-inspired words sometime between A.D. 63-65, which is over nineteen centuries ago. Needless to say, if he could truthfully make that statement in his day, how much more can we make it today?
Tragically, our churches have become infected with what has been called (at best) “casual Christianity” and (at worst) “sloppy grace.” Additionally, this problem is compounded by the fact that we live in terror that people will quit church if we rebuke them over their sinful behavior. That’s why we acceptingly wink at all kinds of blatant sin.
Our acceptance of these sins, however, kills our credibility with lost people. You see, lost people instinctively understand that professing Christians should conduct themselves in a manner that bears a fair degree of resemblance to the personal holiness that marked Jesus’ life. Consequently, when even they can look at our lives and recognize that we have far too much bleating of sheep and lowing of oxen about us, why should they show an interest in accepting the Savior whom we call “Lord”? After all, if He can’t clean up our lives by helping us repent of our sinfulness, who’s to say that He will do any better with their lives?