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Once again, Jesus highlights the importance of relationship over religion. In today’s Bible reading, He drives home His point as He quotes Isaiah.

The Lord said: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service— yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me. Isaiah 29:13 (CSB)

Over and over again throughout His ministry, Jesus highlights passages from the Old Testament (His Bible) that emphasize that He is all about relationship, not religion. In our passage today from Matthew 15, the Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” (Matthew 15:2 CSB) These religious leaders were all about religion. They were all about rules. They were all about doing the good things and not doing the bad things.

Religion looks good. Moralism looks good. Good behavior looks good. But beneath the good-looking veneer of religion, moralism, and good behavior lies the ugly truth that without a relationship with Jesus Christ, you cannot have a right standing before God. (John 17:3, Matthew 7:21-23)

Five hundred years ago, the Reformers definitively answered the question, “How can a person be justified before God?” or “How can people have a right standing before God?” They said that according to God’s Word, people can only be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. And they said that God alone is glorified in justification.

Notice in that statement, there is no mention of religious rituals. There is no mention of baptism. There is no mention of religious behavior. There is no mention of cleaning up your life first. There is no mention of praying a prayer. There is no mention of anything like that. It is only by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ that anyone has any hope of being right with God. Period.

And that’s why religious people in Jesus’ day — and ours too! — don’t get it. They think it’s up to them to make themselves good enough to be accepted by God. The only problem with that is that no one has ever been good enough to be accepted by God.

as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Romans 3:10–12 (CSB)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 (CSB)

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:21 (CSB)

Application

So what about you? You probably call yourself a Christian, a Believer, a Christ-follower. So? You can call yourself anything you want. You can “self-identify” however you want. But the condition of your heart is what matters.

On what basis do you make a claim to be right with God? If your claim has anything to do with you or your behavior, you probably need to go back to the previous paragraphs and rethink your claim.

Sure, good behavior is important. But if you have a right standing before a Holy, Sovereign God, it is only because of what has been done for you, not by you.

That’s good news! That’s the gospel!

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