Feel-Good Religion

An honest and thorough study of God's word will both convict and motivate the honest heart to respond to God's abundant grace shown to mankind, with the understanding that a response is necessary if one desires forgiveness of the sins it reveals us to have committed. It is by God's word we know of sin (Rom. 7:7), we know we have sinned (Rom. 3:23), we know the punishment for sin (Rom. 6:23), and the price that was paid for our sins by the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:3). It also reveals to us the need for a positive response if one desires forgiveness of those sins and for the blood of Christ to wash away our sins. Conviction, without obedience to what those words tell us, is not enough.

The knowledge of what God's word reveals is a difficult message to hear for some, if only because they have been told it is 'good news' and expect [unrealistically] that everything it tells us is 'good news.' The problem, for some, is that the good news of salvation comes after the bad news that we are all guilty of sin and must do something in response to what God has already done. They are not convicted by the word, only upset and irritated because it doesn't tell them what they want to hear; it doesn't make them feel good about what they are doing or who they are. Whenever someone speaks the truth [and it doesn't agree with their concept of 'good' or salvation or 'religion'], they label the speaker as 'judgmental' or 'self-righteous,' never seeing the irony of such labeling.

Others deceive themselves into thinking they are already 'good' or 'good enough' as they are, and see no need for a positive response to the gospel message. For these individuals, their 'religion' is one of self-righteousness and self-deception, for what they believe does not come from God's word and is not based on God's word, but is simply what they want to believe is true. Such 'religion' might rightly be called a 'feel-good' religion because its main purpose is to make the adherents feel good about their current condition. Truth does not find a place in their hearts because they feel good about themselves and want that to always be the case; anyone who says anything different is rejected and dismissed with the overruling declaration, "Well the Jesus I know wouldn't condemn this." The sad reality is, they don't know the real Jesus. Truth is not important to them for all that matters to them is that they feel good about themselves.

And then there are those who do respond to the gospel message in some form of obedience, just not in the way God has specified, and continue to 'serve' Him in that way all their lives because (1) it's what their family has always done, (2) it's what their preacher told them, or (3) it allows them to continue living however they want and convince themselves they are 'Christians' and, thus, saved. Again, truth is not the primary [or even secondary] motive behind their beliefs and practices, but they will occasionally open their Bibles and pull a verse or two out of context to justify themselves so they can continue doing and believing as they have done in the past. Instead of asking, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (cf. Acts 9:6), they respond by trying to justify themselves (cf. Luke 10:29; Luke 16:14, 15) because, again, the aim is to feel good more so than pleasing God.

And then there are those who diligently search God's word to see what the Bible teaches, and to then make sure he or she is doing just that. Sin is conscientiously avoided and vocally condemned. The Bible classes and worship assemblies are faithfully attended and jobs or invitation to events that might take them away from such assemblies are declined. Songs are sung word-for-word and with vigor and emotion. Prayers are spoken slowly with all seriousness and with no irreverence, and hearty 'amens' are offered at the end of others' prayers. Error is strongly condemned and false teachers are severely criticized. Bible verses are quoted assiduously that others might know or remember everything is done by 'book, chapter, and verse.' A suit and tie or a dress is always worn to the assembly that others might know we are giving our best to the Lord in every way. Calls and visits are made when a brother or sister is sick or just misses an assembly. No one would question their commitment to the Lord, when all these things are observed.

But, here's the thing: Sometimes, these things are done not because one seeks to please the Lord, but only so one can feel good about himself or herself. Though it may never be said out loud, the one who does so is subconsciously saying, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). Sometimes it is clearly or subtly implied by the condemnation of others who are not as faithful as they are, who do not dress as nicely as they do, who do not sing as well or as often as they do, who may miss Bible class more often, who do not use 'Thee' and 'Thou' in their prayers, or who use some translation of the Bible other than the 'Authorized Version.' The plain fact of the matter is, those who do all they do with this in mind are no better than the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees who did all their works to be seen of men (Matt. 23:5), who loved recognition of their piousness by others (Matt. 23:6, 7), and who prayed long prayers in pretense (Matt. 23:14), but were on the inside full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matt. 23:28). Please note that they appeared to be religiously-faithful, but they were not pleasing to God.

So, how can we ensure that we are doing what we do, believing what we believe, and teaching what we teach for the right reason and in a way that honors and pleases God? What is accepted by God?

Forget Self. At the heart of all the things wrong we mentioned today is a desire to please self, rather than God; one seeks to feel good rather than please God. Let us heed the admonition of Peter, who wrote, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Pet. 5:6); the tax collector stands in stark contrast to the Pharisee (cf. Luke 18:13). Self-centered thinking is never going to please the Lord, and demonstrates a clear lack of love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:5, “does not seeks its own”).

Make Pleasing The Lord The Highest Priority. The apostle Paul put it best when he wrote, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). Exalt Him as He deserves; see Him as the Creator, King, and Savior that He is; acknowledge it is His will we seek to do and not our own; and do all you do out of a genuine and deep love for Him for what He has done for us. Instead of seeking to feel good about self, make pleasing God the most important purpose in all you do and say.

See Others As More Important Than Self. Self doesn't even come in second place in the life of a faithful and committed disciple; self is always last. That means we must not seek to make self feel good, but to be pleasing to others and to “esteem others better than [self]” and “look out not only for [one's] own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3, 4). Instead of seeking to please self, seek to please others.

If you truly want to feel good, then forget about self, serve God, and serve others. And, yes, I'm talking to you.Steven Harper