I’ve been studying the book of Jeremiah, and one of the helps I am using in this is J.A. Thompson’s commentary on it. One of the passion’s of this Old Testament prophet is his hatred of religious superficiality and his call for true worship.
The book of Jeremiah is full of God’s rejection of His people’s outward religious actions because their hearts were far from Him. They made sacrificial offerings, but they would not make a sacrifice for their neighbors and instead oppressed the poor. They listened to false prophet’s who only prophesied what the people wanted to hear, but rejected God’s word when He called them to repentance. They kept the temple of Yahweh, yet worshiped other gods. They were the bride of God and called to sexual purity, yet played the whore by spiritually loving idols and physically engaging in sexual immorality. The foreskins of their men were removed through circumcision identifying them as God’s people, but the foreskins of their heart were hardened and callused without any affection for their God.
God’s people had exchanged devoted worship for external religion. Religious externals are not evil in and of themselves, but they are not the essence of worship.
J.A. Thompson writes,
…more than anyone in his age (and perhaps among all the prophets of Israel) [Jeremiah] asserted that God, who is spirit, cannot be worshipped by the material, whether sacrifice, circumcision, temple, cultic furniture, etc., unless these are a means to point the worshipper to God. If that were so, they served a useful though not an essential purpose. Otherwise they were a worthless hindrance and positively dangerous because men might be content with them and put their trust in them…When he realized that the national cult had become an empty parade in which he could not participate, he seems to have rejected it. (The Book of Jeremiah, 70 [emphasis added])
It’s easy to be content with the trappings of Christianity: going to conferences, reading popular books, having a “quiet time”, attending public worship, understanding doctrine, having the latest spiritual experience, involvement in Bible-studies, small-groups, and missional communities etc. Jeremiah calls us to something else, namely, God Himself–“the fountain of living water” (2:13).
God desires “your love as a bride” and the “devotion of your youth” (2:2). He wants an undivided heart. Externals can be a great hindrance and danger to the true knowledge of God because so easily one’s heart latches onto the husk of Christianity and not the heart of Christ. The repentance that God calls Israel too is not a return to outward religion, but a return “to me” (4:1).
Religion is impersonal, God is personal. Therefore don’t be content with impersonal religion or “Christianity”, but trust and love God personally and walk in his ways. Jeremiah, speaking as God’s mouth-piece, cries out for men and women like this:
“…let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 9:24)