Back in April 2008, when he was running for president, then-Senator Barack Obama was asked about the difficulty he was having winning over working-class voters in Pennsylvania and the Midwest. “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” he said. His words caused quite an uproar and I remember it was kind of fun watching him try to walk those comments back.
Hard words, but maybe then-Senator Obama was right…..at least accidentally. His main point, a political point, was wrong. People do not cling to religion “as a way to explain their frustrations.” But there is a theological truth in his words, a truth to which I am pretty sure he was, and is, blind - lots of people cling to religion because they think it will make them OK with God.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has put eternity into man’s heart. Romans 1 teaches us that the unrighteous suppress the truth of God’s existence and power. So everybody knows deep in their soul that there is a God and that judgment for unrighteousness is coming. And too many people, too often, try to relate to God in a way other than the way he has provided.
In Mark 7, after yet another attack by the Pharisees, Jesus obliterates their argument with the truth. Jesus says – Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men (Mark 7:6-8). These Pharisees were replacing love of God with love of religion and ritual. They engaged in religious practices and relied on those practices to make them right with God, when their hearts were far from him. God says their worship was in vain because it was heartless, empty, superficial, and rooted in works, not grace.
God provided one way to be reconciled to him, to be right with him: Jesus. Jesus affirmed this when he said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus also said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
What are you clinging to? Religion, like then-Senator Obama said people like us do? Are you clinging to your good record of church attendance to make you right with God? Are you clinging to baptism or good deeds or a pretty good devotional and prayer life? Are you clinging to the belief that overall, you’re a pretty good person?
God doesn’t want ritual, he doesn’t want religion, he wants you. He wants you to believe all that he has done for you in and through Jesus Christ, his Son, and he wants your response to be one of highest love and adoring worship. He is an amazing God! Don’t cling to churchy traditions and activities thinking they make you right with God. They don’t. Instead, cling to Jesus. Love him. Adore him. Honor him. Obey him. Live for him.
Let’s prove President Obama wrong….by being clingy people, clinging not to religion, but to King Jesus.