Bashing religion has become something a the intellectual sport du jour. If you want to make a splash then write a book about the death of God ro the evils of religion. Even among evangelical Christians religion bashing, and bashing the church along with it, has grown in popularity to immense proportions. People think it started with the likes of Freud who said we created God to assuage our guilt, and Marx and Nietzsche who said it was all about holding power over others. But in reality Jesus was the biggest religion basher to ever walk the planet. He refused to allow people to use religion in order to justify themselves and their behavior. He challenged the religious people, who justified themselves because they tithed, gave ten percent of their resources, all the way down to counting out peppercorns, “9 for me, and 1 for God”. Jesus said they were completely missing the point. Yes your tithing is correct he said, but in the midst of your being so religious, you were leaving out justice and mercy for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Then he reminds them that God desires mercy and not sacrifice. In other words, God wants you to truly love your neighbor and not try to justify yourself for following all the rules that make you feel so spiritually superior.
Psalm 40 get to exactly that point. God is not delighting in the offerings and sacrifices of the Psalmist. Rather, God is rescuing the Psalmist from his sin and destruction. not because of the religious efforts of the Psalmist, but because of the great mercy of God. Then comes the crucial point. Because of God’s rescuing him, the Psalmist is now motivated from the heart to sing God’s praises and even to follow God’s law. not so that God will accept him or that he would justify himself, but rather because of what God has for him. His motivation is not religious but relational. He loves God and wants to express that love, in gratitude for God’s salvation.
On the outside the behavior of the religious person seeking to justify their actions and the non-religious person seeking to love God for His actions may look the same. But as the Word says, “God looks on the heart”. This is not meant to excuse bad behavior that has a good heart behind it. Rather this is meant to call out hypocritical religion that looks good on the outside but is dead on the inside.
In the end God does not want your religion, He wants your heart. If your heart is deeply in love with the Lord for all His mercies, then the outside will eventually reflect that.
40 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Blessed is the man who makes
the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after a lie!
5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.
6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.[a]
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance[b]
in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
ever preserve me!
12 For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!