In my last post, I wrote about what John Newton had to say about piety. I also mentioned that I’ve been working on a talk for an upcoming Via de Cristo retreat weekend. In that talk, forms of false and true piety are described, and I thought those ideas might be of interest to our readers. In this post, I’ll be writing about false piety and the forms it can take.
All Christians are sinners, and we sometimes engage in superficial or deceptive behaviors that masquerade as piety. Such false piety is destructive because it keeps people away from the church and from coming to a true understanding of God and His purpose for their lives. I’m going to list some of the forms false piety can take, and if you’re honest, you’ll see yourself in at least one of these four examples.
- One way we can be falsely pious is to wear our salvation as if it were a badge of honor. This can cause us to retreat from the world, becoming self-centered and self-righteous, more concerned with looking like a perfect Christian than the salvation of others. I saw a bit of this in myself when I recently had the opportunity to meet someone from a different culture and religious background. My first reaction was to stay away. Then I remembered that Jesus befriended all sorts of people. He didn’t see anyone as contamination to be avoided — He saw them as human beings who needed to hear the good news. If Christians like me avoid others, they may never hear about Jesus.
- Another form of false piety occurs when our faith life becomes mechanical. We go to church, pray before meals and participate in other Christian activities thoughtlessly. It’s just part of our routine. Do you ever find yourself rushing through the Lord’s Prayer without really contemplating the meaning? Have you forgotten the thrust of the sermon before leaving the church parking lot? Been more intent on getting to your after-church lunch date than worshipping God? There are times when I have. If you allow this to become your regular habit, your faith will be stagnant instead of growing — your piety will be based on what you do instead of who you are.
- We’re all familiar with the false piety known a hypocrisy. The hypocrite claims to be virtuous while behaving in a way that contradicts her expressed values. My tongue sometimes leads me into this kind of behavior. Before I retired, the employees in my small office would often eat lunch together. The talk would turn to complaints about the boss, other employees, or our spouses. It was so easy to join in, to criticize or share a bit of juicy gossip. But the Bible tells us that our speech should encourage and bless others. My co-workers knew me to be a Christian, and when my words didn’t match my beliefs, I wasn’t being a good ambassador for Christ.
- Finally, there is the social butterfly. This Christian goes to church in order to see her friends, or to enjoy church programs. I’ve always belonged to small churches, and part of the appeal is being needed, and being involved in many church activities. Sometimes during Sunday worship my thoughts were consumed with who I needed to see afterwards about an upcoming meeting or event. When this type of behavior begins to dominate our faith life, we are treating the church as our club instead of the body of Christ.
As you can see, false piety is self-centered while true piety is God-centered.
More about true piety tomorrow …..
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