This past Sunday, we heard a sermon on David and Doeg. The pastor who preached used the moment to answer this question, “What is true Christianity about?”
Now, neither David or Doeg were Christians, of course. They are Old Testament people, but a point about authentic Christianity becomes very clear by looking at the two of them.
David was the man who would become king of Israel. However, at the time described in the sermon, Saul was the king, and wanted to kill David due to Saul’s raging jealousy.
Doeg was detained before the Lord
The story about these two men begins in 1 Samuel 21. David has gone to a priest in the town of Nob and asked for food and weapons. The priest gives him bread from the altar and the sword of Goliath which David had used to kill the giant. David, in God’s grace, receives blessed bread and a special sword!
But Doeg is there and sees David. Unfortunately, he is loyal to Saul. The Bible gives a description of Doeg as being “one of Saul’s servants,” and his “chief shepherd.” (1 Samuel 21:7) And interestingly, it says, Doeg had been “detained before the Lord,” meaning, probably, he was performing a religious ritual.
Being religious but hard hearted…
It’s ironic to read that Doeg was performing a rite of some sort at the place of the priests because a little while later, he reveals to Saul that he has seen David hiding at Nob. He also “tells on” the lead priest Ahimelek that he was the one who helped David.
Saul has Ahimelek, and all the men of his family, also priests at Nob, brought to him, and orders them to be killed for helping David. None of Saul’s men want to carry out this wicked act.
But Doeg is happy to do it.
He strikes down 85 priests with his sword and then he kills all the inhabitants of Nob, human and animal. (Doeg, the man who had been “detained before the Lord.”)
Sometimes people think they are right with God because they show up at worship services or serve in some way at a church. But Jesus nailed it on the head when he quoted Isaiah 29:13, speaking about the empty “religion” of some: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” (Matthew 15:8-9 NIV) Doeg was this kind of guy.
Morality and a God focused heart
“Being religious” can have a negative meaning. It can mean that we’re like this man Doeg. We, too, can be “detained before the Lord” (doing religious rituals). But then we act, if not as horribly as Doeg, at least in a way that’s hard, cold, and indifferent to God or to others. We’re superficial.
Don’t get me wrong. Attending worship, having spiritual practices, and obeying rules are important. It is right to participate in spiritual behavior. But as we talk about discipleship and help others learn to be disciples, we need to stress Christianity is not about making ourselves appear moral. It’s not going through the motions of religious actions. It’s about a changed heart and an ongoing relationship with the Lord.
I remember kids growing up who would admire Catholics because they said they can “raise heck” on Friday night and go to confession the next day. In other words, these kids thought (wrongly) that this was a lifestyle where you could do wrong and pretend to repent through a ritual. Of course, it’s not that and true, devout Catholics do not “ride the fence.” They try to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
Then there is self-righteousness
But a little more about a second problem with trying to appear good without a changed heart:
Many people take on the Christian faith with the right motive in the beginning. They realize they are far from perfect and need forgiveness. So, they ask God for it and ask Jesus to “come into their heart by faith.” They accept that Jesus died to take on the need that each of us has to make restitution for our sins.
But somewhere along the way, some of these people who first felt forgiven by Jesus switch back to believing they make themselves right with God by their own good works. Even pastors can start a sermon stressing the grace of Jesus, then end up with a 5 step, Law-based to-do list for deflated listeners. We DO NOT become right with God by our own good works. But many fall into thinking that’s what’s needed. Jesus told a story about this kind of thinking:
“A Pharisee and a tax collector enter the Temple,” Jesus said. The Pharisee prays to God about what a wonderful person he is and how he gives money to the Temple.
Patting himself on the back
Then the Pharisee says, “I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The tax collector, by contrast, stands at a distance. He doesn’t even look up. Feeling unworthy, he says, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Jesus ended this story by saying, the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home “right” with God. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14 NIV)
So what is a true Christian?
We’ve said being a Christian is not just going through the motions. It is not doing good works and comparing your behavior with the behavior of others, expecting that good behavior is what gets you to heaven. Real Christianity is not living in a worldly way, while now and then saying a prayer of repentance without truly repenting.
I like the simple definition of the Christian life from the Compassion International ministry. “A Christian is someone whose behavior and heart reflect Jesus Christ.” Yes, so true! But, the reason a Christian’s behavior and heart can reflect Jesus is because He, and only He, has done something for them and all the world. He died taking the punishment we deserved for our sinfulness upon Himself. The prophet Isaiah beautifully foreshadowed what Jesus did:
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon him and by his stripes, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NKJV)
What does having a Christian heart mean?
It means that we recognize and accept that Jesus died, He died for us, and most importantly, “He died for me.” Those who believe come to believe that His death is personally beneficial. That person puts their faith in Jesus as the One who can change them into being a Christlike person, leading them from death to life. The Holy Spirit draws each one to Jesus and they become new. They are “born again.”
Relationship then follows
After being forgiven, born again, and sealed with the Holy Spirit, something else happens for the believer in Jesus. They begin to grow and change, increasingly looking like Jesus through relationship with Him.
What does that mean? Jesus isn’t an earthly person any longer. How do we relate with One we can’t see?
We relate through reading, meditating on, and memorizing scripture, declaring it over our lives, “hearing His voice” in that. We pray and sense Him speaking to us in our hearts and minds as we choose new and more compassionate ways to live in this world. As we sing songs of faith, gather with other Christians, attend worship, and so on, we find ourselves sensing God’s nearness and daily concern for us.
Answered prayer, miracles, grace
And as we go along and see God’s help in things we’ve prayed for, even experiencing and witnessing miracles, and as we see moments where we say, “Only God could have gotten me through that,” we realize we’re in a relationship with our Creator.
As we feel compelled to reach out to the least among us, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, with love and tangible aid – as Jesus leads us, we grow in His knowledge and truth more and more.
That is what the Christian life should be about – depending on God. He makes us new daily as we look to Him for His mercy and grace. There is a beautiful verse, 2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV that talks about our being changed by being in relationship with God:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory…by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Once again, relationship not religion
It is relationship, not superficial religious behavior that is the hallmark of Christianity. You are blessed if you understand the difference. A person like Doeg can live in two worlds and not even see their hypocrisy when they do something evil, then perform a religious act, thinking that makes them “proper.”
A person like David, though flawed, runs into God’s grace again and again, because they love the Lord and seek Him, holding their relationship with Him as the most valuable thing in their lives.
This song below talks about being “undone” by God’s love. The singer, Jeremy Riddle, is referring to those moments when something – maybe a song, a sermon, a prayer – causes your soul to be deeply touched. In that moment you feel God’s awareness of you. Something at your core is healed and cared for. That’s what true Christianity gives to us – the gift of eternal life with God that begins now. Psalm 63 (a psalm of David):
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