Life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling. Ecclesiastes teaches us that life under the sun is full of vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:14 says, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Thus far, Solomon has shown that wisdom, pleasure, work, and relationships are fleeting and frustrating. If these things cannot bring meaning, what can? Someone might respond: “I know! How about religion? I can commit myself to a religious system and then I will have happiness, contentment, and meaning.” To this, Solomon replies that religion is vanity when it becomes self-focused. Self-focused religion is vanity when it is invisible, irreverent, and/or irrelevant.
Religion is vanity when it is invisible. Invisible religion is like an insurance policy that a man gets but hopes he never needs. He sees it as protection in case something bad were to happen. Christianity is not an insurance policy; it is a new identity. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Authentic Christianity means that Jesus is your Lord and His mission and priorities are now your mission and priorities.
One indication that your Christianity is an invisible religion is that you do not make the weekly worship service a priority. Solomon wrote: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” The first implication in this command is that a Christian is in the habit of going to “the house of God.” First Baptist Church of Scott City, MO is composed of the Christians who have joined themselves together in Jesus’ name for worship. The building we gather in is considered “the house of God” because it is the space we have designated for worship.
The gathering of the local church is a vital aspect of our Christian life and we should regularly gather as a church. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Our gatherings must be a priority. It should be rare that a person misses the worship service. So rare that if you are not here, someone is contacting you to find out what has happened. No Christian has ever said: “Wow. Ever since I stopped going to church my life has gotten so much better!”
Religion is vanity when it is irreverent. Irreverent religion is like a person buying a costume. While there are appropriate times to dress up in a costume, Christianity is not a costume to be put on. Christianity is not about pretending to be something you are not, it is about Jesus transforming you from what you were into something new (2 Cor 5:17). Remember, we are told “guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” We must not be irreverent in our religion. Walter Kaiser said, “The Teacher’s strong advice for us, above all else, is to ‘go to the house of God’ [and] we are to go with a receptive attitude and a readiness to listen rather than lecture God on what He ought to do or how things should be run.” There is a right way and a wrong way to go to the house of God.
One indication that your Christianity is an irreverent religion is that you do not show God the respect He deserves. This includes how we gather for worship. In what condition do you arrive for the worship service? How do you act during the worship service? Make no mistake, I am not saying that you cannot come to our worship service if you are struggling. The service is open to all who are struggling physically and spiritually. I am asking if you are arriving prepared to worship the true and living God. Solomon wrote: “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools…be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God…let your words be few.” James offers the same advice when he wrote: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). When we gather, we gather to enter the courts of thanksgiving and the gates of praise. We should draw near to listen and not be rash with our mouth because the worship service is not about us or for us, it is for God. This is not our worship, this is God’s worship.
Religion is vanity when it is irrelevant. Irrelevant religion is like a man who carries around a rabbit’s foot because he believes it will bring him good luck. Why will it bring him good luck? He’s not exactly sure but he figures “What do I have to lose? Why not give it a try?” So, he sticks it in his pocket and goes about with his life. Whereas the insurance policy (mentioned above) is protection in case something bad were to happen, the rabbit’s foot is (presumably) meant to keep something bad from happening. Christianity is a lucky charm you hope will keep bad things from happening to you. Christianity involves surrendering all of your hopes, dreams, goals, and will to Jesus Christ as you bow your knee as His servant.
Religion is vanity when it relies on oaths and vows. It is not sinful to make oaths and vows, but our vows must be done cautiously: not manipulative or flippant. Solomon warns us: “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools…Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” An oath (or vow) is the practice of regularly confirming your truthfulness with an appeal to a higher power. It is a solemn promise in which “people swear by something greater than themselves” (Heb 6:16) as a witness to their truthfulness. We must be careful with what we say and be quick to hear.
Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He knows us and we know Him. We must not seek to manipulate Him for our goals and ends. This is what separates Christianity from other religions. We do not perform in order to appease. We love the One who loves us and has adopted us into His family. We must not have a false form of Christianity that is invisible, irreverent, and/or irrelevant. We need the real Christianity which is irresistible! We proclaim the excellencies of God and call people to repent and believe the Gospel so that they may be saved. Fear God and keep His commands.