MERIDIAN — Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you. — Acts 17:22-23 (NKJV)
The Gallop Poll published Feb. 3 indicates Mississippi remains the most religious state in the Union, with 61 percent of the population indicating they were “very religious.”
The term, “very religious,” indicates the person considers religion an important part of daily life and attends religious activities weekly. The percentage of Americans across the country that are “very religious” is 41 percent. Mississippi is, by far, the most religious state in the union.
My first reaction is, “Shout for joy, we finally rate high in something good!” Don’t you think it feels good to be known for being so religious? It is common to see people going to church on Sunday. It is nice to see couples praying a blessing over lunch in the restaurant. I like hearing the clerk at the store say, “Have a blessed day.”
However, I must check my celebration at the point of asking “Is being religious good enough?” Should my confidence in an eternal future be secured by the fact I go to church regularly? Does practicing rituals make me more approved by God? Is participation in church all that is needed?
The answer to these questions has been around since the beginning of time. Jesus faced those who were very, very religious. They were meticulous in their focus on the perfect spiritual life. They broke from daily routines three times each day to pray. They studied the scriptures and interpreted them in every aspect of life. They publicly affirmed their commitment to virtue by how they dressed, who they associated with, and how they arduously aimed for moral perfection. The problem is that in all their religious practices, they missed knowing Jesus as Savior.
In Athens, Paul met very religious people. They were so concerned in offending gods, they built an altar to “The Unknown God.” Their thoughts were that acknowledging God might exist was enough to satisfy their religious responsibilities.
In both the Jews and the Greeks of Jesus’ day, the practice of religion was all-consuming. However, the religious practice of both groups lacked one thing. There was no focus on a personal relationship with God. Their religious focus was on man’s efforts to appease the Divine.
The real measure of Mississippi’s standing before God will never be measured by how many attend church each week. What the Lord expects from us is a personal relationship with Him where we live in unbroken fellowship with the Lord, trusting in his power to save. What the Lord wants from us is a response of faith and love because He has provided what we have sought out of man-made religion.
Stop for a moment and ask yourself a few questions:
1. When is the last time the Lord has heard from you? Close friends share. Jesus wants to be closer than a brother to you.
2. How consistent are you in putting your beliefs into practice? Is your language in keeping with God’s glory? Is your lifestyle true to what you say you believe? Do you really believe, or, are you just playing a game so others will think well of you?
3. How religious are you during the week? Are you a part-time believer? Would your co-workers be surprised to hear you consider yourself “very religious?” Could you be labeled a hypocrite because your lifestyle is inconsistent with your religious claims?
4. How much of your faith is lived outside the church? If all your faith is expressed within the confines of the church facilities, you really don’t have much, do you?
God is more interested in seeing us “walking the walk” instead of “talking the talk.” I celebrate we are most religious. What God wants is for us to love Him with all we are and have and love our neighbor as ourselves. That will go beyond being “religious” to becoming “real.” When we become real is when the nation will really notice.
Dr. John A. Temple is pastor of Poplar Springs Drive Baptist Church, located at 4032 Poplar Springs Drive in Meridian. Visit the church website online at www. psdbc.org.