How easy it is to fall into religious superstition! I mean thinking that God will bless us because of our religious activities. I’ve prayed, so everything will be fine now, because I’ve prayed. Not because of God’s intervention, but because of my prayers. I’ve had a bad day so far, but I’ll read my Bible now then the day will improve, not because I’ll be living life with a greater focus on God, but because I read my Bible. Having gone to church twice this Sunday, I think an easy week at work is pretty much guaranteed now. I can’t be bothered doing any work, but reading a book about theology is bound to solve that problem. I don’t suppose any Christians consciously and deliberately think like that, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one who catches myself sometimes. It’s tempting to put our faith not in God, but in our religious works.
We see this problem in the Bible too. This isn’t the only example, but the one which sprung to my mind occurs after a battle between Israel and Philistia recorded in 1 Samuel 4. It’s a disaster for the Israelites, and with 4,000 dead soldiers it’s time for a rethink. What solution do they come up with? They recognise God is in control of the battle, by asking “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?” and they’re sure they know how to obtain His favour – “Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.” Does it work? The Philistines are scared stiff, and decide the best defence is a good offence. “So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. Also the ark of God was captured”. Hardly the desired effect.
Can we combat this malaise, or are we simply helpless in the hands of our sinful motives? We can do many things. We can examine our motives, repent when we find ourselves lacking, and rely more fully on God’s grace in Christ. It is all we can ever do to fight sin – flee to Christ.