He Delights… with Qualifications {Entry 3a}

I think a word from John Owen will help put some parameters around my last post. Though it is long, I promise you will be greatly nourished from his thoughts:

        Many people enjoy attending a service of worship of God. That enjoyment, however, by itself is not necessarily a mark of true spirituality. We have to ask what it is that causes that enjoyment. Then we will discover a difference between true spiritual change and mere moral renovation of a character.
        Some people may be greatly attracted to the outward performance of worship – eloquent preaching, delightful music, impressive ceremony (Ezekiel 33.31-32; John 5.35). It is right that there should be carefulness and order in our worship, but the spiritually minded person is not concerned with these things alone. Indeed, that person will be aware of the danger of those things being a distraction from real worship. Two men may enjoy the same garden: one, because of its colour and scent; the other, because of a close knowledge of the nature and uses of the flowers and herbs. The spiritual mind is like the latter.
        Satisfaction derived from a religious service can simply arise from a sense of having done one’s duty. Some comfort may be drawn from the thought that perhaps attendance at worship will lessen one’s guilt for known since committed.
        Even believers behave in spiritual ways because they recognize them as duties, but there is a difference between fulfilling a duty to obtain some measure of comfort to oneself and doing so because one may know God better by it.
        The reason why some people can draw comfort from attending a service of worship even though they do not do so with a spiritual mind is because they believe they earn credit with God that way (Romans 10.3). Their idea of righteousness is of something that can construct themselves. There is a sense of pleasure derived from apparently contributing in this way to their own credit.
        Others may draw pleasure from religious behaviour simply because they secretly enjoy being thought to be a better kind of person. Some can be proud of being thought devout. This can be especially true in any religious system where, in competition with others, a good reputation is the way to preferment.
        Finally I think I must insist that in the case of some, pleasure in religious observances arises from superstitious ideas which can affect the thinking of those of all religions, true and false. People can use religion as a kind of insurance against the possibility that some disaster will befall them if they neglect it. I hardly need to say that no spiritually minded person draws comfort from worship for such a reason.
        The point I want to make is that it is possible to feel good about religious behaviour for the wrong reasons. A great deal of the worship that goes on in the world is not acceptable to God at all…

{John Owen, Thinking Spiritually }

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