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Car Wash Religion

by Gil Rugh

The Jews in Jesus’ day had an incorrect view of sin and cleansing. They thought that if someone had something against them, simply making a sacrifice would wash them clean. People believe a similar lie today. They think attending church is like driving through a spiritual car wash. If they have a bad week and get dirty, driving through the car wash will clean everything up.

Then, when they get dirty the next week, they drive through the car wash again. Many people readily acknowledge that they have lied, cheated or lusted. But they fail to understand what needs to occur for that sin to be cleansed. So when the weekend rolls around, they drive their spiritual car through the car wash and assume that makes everything right again.

Jesus said, “If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23, 24).

In this context, Jesus was referring to Jews, but the idea can also be applied to non-Jewish believers. God doesn’t care about external acts of worship nearly as much as the condition of the heart, and sacrifices made with an unrepentant attitude are not acceptable to Him.

When the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day failed to measure up to what they knew was God’s standard, they simply offered a sacrifice. They had no understanding that if their hearts were not changed, their sin would not be cleansed.

Like these religious leaders, many of today’s people who claim to be religious are really only interested in getting cleaned up on the outside. They sit in church while harboring grudges and resentment. They try to cover up their unrepentant sin and think that as long as they attend church and go through the motions their sin will disappear. But if their hearts are not right, their worship is not acceptable.

David wrote, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being” (Ps. 51:6).

What Jesus said about the Law is no different from what God demanded a thousand years earlier, through David’s writing. David continued:

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (vv. 16, 17).

The issue is the condition of the heart—the inside rather than the outside. Wickedness harbored in the heart prevents a right relationship with God.

What is your attitude toward others? You may have anger or an attitude of contempt which you are covering up so others cannot see it. However, you cannot hide it from God.

Offering sacrifices will not remove sin. Neither will religious activity. Only those who have first been cleansed by faith and have a changed heart can come and offer an acceptable sacrifice before God.