The Poison of Profession without Practice

“Open sin, and avowed unbelief, no doubt slay their thousands.  But profession without practice slays its ten thousands.” — J. C. Ryle

INTRODUCTION:  Religious ritual can be so deadly.  It is like a sugar coated poison.  It tastes sweet and good going down.  It isn’t until later, after many doses, that we discover its deadly consequences.  We maintain a form of religion but it is without power.  We still participate in the ritual but the joy is gone.  Growth is stymied.  We may become so deluded that we become like Samson.  Our power is cut off long before we are ever aware of it.
On the day before the Babylonians would overcome the city of Jerusalem, God came to Ezekiel to explain why this tragedy was happening. 

“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.’  My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice.  With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice” Ezekiel 33:30-32.

When I read that I could not miss the similarity between that description of Israel and our churches today.  Large crowds are saying, “Let’s go hear this or that speaker.  He says the most wonderful things.  He is wonderfully anointed” Or, “Let’s go and hear that singing group.  They sing so beautifully and are so contemporary.”  We seek out the speakers who are flamboyant and funny.  We raise our hands and proclaim our devotion in the large assemblies.  But, do we hear the Word of the Lord and obey it?  Or are we like the professors of Jesus’ day who cried, “Lord, Lord,” and did not do what Jesus said (Luke 6:46).  It is so easy to substitute religious activities for heart felt devotion.  So easy to become like the people Isaiah wrote about: “The Lord says:  ‘These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ (Isaiah 29:13).

It is so easy for us to deceive ourselves by merely listening to the word and failing to do it (James 1:22).  As we turn to God’s Word in our devotional for today, let us pray that our hearts would be convicted of any deception that we have allowed to enter our lives by our lack of obedience.  May we become doers of the Word so that God may bless us in all that we do (James 1:25).


153 Look upon my suffering and deliver me,
for I have not forgotten your law. 
154 Defend my cause and redeem me;
preserve my life according to your promise. 
155 Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek out your decrees. 
156 Your compassion is great, O LORD;
preserve my life according to your laws. 
157 Many are the foes who persecute me,
but I have not turned from your statutes. 
158 I look on the faithless with loathing,
for they do not obey your word. 
159 See how I love your precepts;
preserve my life, O LORD, according to your love. 
160 All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal. 
Psalm 119:153-160


Verse 153:  “Look upon my suffering and deliver me, for I have not forgotten your law.” — If you have been walking with me through Psalm 119, you could not miss the troubles this man has experienced.  It seems like he is in constant suffering.  It may be that this is just a pressured time in his life, but I don’t think so.  I think God has allowed the psalmist to fight a constant battle for our instruction.  Remember the words of Paul in Romans 15:4?  “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  This psalm and this life are those written things that God wants to use to encourage us and give us hope.  Why?  Because we may expect the same kind of struggles that the psalmist is going through.  Endurance is a necessary discipline for everyone who is a soldier in the battle for joy.  There is a lion who is relentless in his hunger to eat up the faith of God’s people.  That is why we must devour the Word of God before the lies of the enemy devour us.
We have learned that it is possible to be in the midst of suffering and pain and to still be joyful.  That is why Paul would write this incredible testimony: 
“… through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8 10).

I think very few of us really know what Paul meant by that phrase, “sorrowful but always rejoicing.”  I think it has to do with knowing the grace of God in pain in a way that we could never know in pleasure.  I think it has to do with crying out to God in our suffering and finding Jesus at our side, walking with us.  I think it has to do with being pushed to the max and still being able to say, “I have not forgotten your law.”  I think that is why the psalmist is in constant trouble.  God wants us to discover the same kind of enduring hope that he had. 

Verse 154:  “Defend my cause and redeem me; preserve my life according to your promise.” — We have often pointed out the two movements of faith seen in this psalm.  It is the downward flow of God’s truth to man and the upward flow of man’s response in prayer.  The Word is not merely a written treatise on how we should live, but a communion between a Living God and His needy child.  The Word and prayer are the two tracks upon which the walk with Christ is maintained.  We are invited to know God in a greater way and so we cry out for grace.  He answers and we are satisfied and not.  We want more.  So we go back to the Word and cry out for greater insight.  “Open our eyes that we may see the wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18).

But there are other times we need to pray.  Those are the times when we are being attacked and know that we lack the resources to survive.  “Defend my cause and redeem me” we cry.  It is one thing to know God’s promise but it is another thing to appropriate what He has promised.  And God has so ordained that His promises become active in our lives through prayer.  If we say we believe in God’s promises and don’t pray, we are fooling ourselves.  Here is how one man expressed it:  “As prayer without faith is but beating the air, so trust without prayer is but a presumptuous bravado.  He that promises to give, and bids us to trust His promises, commands us to pray, and expects us to obey His commands.  He will give, but not without our asking.”  Why does He insist upon our prayers?  Psalm 50:15 provides the answer:  “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”  We come back to God’s great purpose for creation and redemption:  His own glory.  We pray and He delivers us.  We get the grace and He gets the glory. 

Verse 155: “Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek out your decrees.” — Our appetite determines the passion of our heart.  The psalmist reminds us of the great separation that divides God’s family from the wicked.  To even use such a term as “wicked” in this day makes one feel uneasy.  It seems so judgmental and intolerant.  And yet, that is the language of the Bible.  Unbelievers have a knowledge of God, but they suppress that knowledge by their wickedness (Romans 1:18-19).  Psalm 1 makes the same clear distinction. 

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor sit in the seat of the scornful … His delight is in the law of God and on its precepts he meditates day and night.”

The wicked do not delight in the law of God and so they do not delight in the decrees of God.  The end result is that they will not stand on the day of judgment, nor will sinners in the congregation of the saints; for God watches over the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish. 

That truth should cause us to:  1) Be filled with thankfulness for the grace of God that would open our eyes so that we could see the glory of God in the face of Christ; 2) Be diligent in our witness to those family and friends who are outside of God’s blessing; 3) Judge ourselves as to the extent to which we really do delight in seeking out the decrees of God;  4) If we fall short here, ask God’s forgiveness for behaving like the wicked and ask Him to give us a new passion for His Word; 5) Commit ourselves to formulate and follow through on a plan to become disciples of God through the disciplined and prayerful study of His Word. 

Verse 156: “Your compassion is great, O LORD; preserve my life according to your laws.” — It is here that every one of us should rejoice.  We have a merciful and gracious God.  He knows we are weak and He delights in forgiving His repentant children.  When Moses asked to see God’s face, this is what he heard:  “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).

And lest we miss that point, He repeats that same awesome truth seven more times in the Old Testament (Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9-10; Psalm 86:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:1; and Nehemiah 9:17).  Thank God that He has left no doubt as to His mercy.  If we still have doubts, look at the cross.  Don’t miss out on God’s grand invitation.  Confess your sin and receive forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9).  Then, forget the past and give yourself fully to knowing Jesus your Lord and pleasing Him in every way. 

Verse 157:  “Many are the foes who persecute me, but I have not turned from your statutes.” — I heard a conversation on one of the local radio talk shows the other day.  The question under discussion was, “Is it ever right to lie?”  The overwhelming response to the question was that not only does everyone lie but, it is OK to do it.  The talk show host summed up the consensus:  If you want to keep people’s respect you have to lie every once and awhile.  Ethic was pushed aside by the pragmatic.  That may be the way of our world, but it is not the way of righteousness.  As followers of the Holy One, we have been given clear written statutes.  It makes no difference if telling the truth means we gain foes or are persecuted for it.  Even if we have to stand alone, we stand for truth so that our God is honored.  It is more important for us to be faithful than popular. 

Verse 158:  “I look on the faithless with loathing, for they do not obey your word.” — This sounds a little over the edge.  We feel uncomfortable with this way of speaking.  Loathing of the faithless seems out of place for us who live on this side of the cross.  But we must be careful here.  Is our concern fired by our love for the lost or by our lack of love for God’s name?  When was the last time you were moved to righteous indignation after seeing gross evil that was dishonoring Jesus Christ and His glory?  Do you see what I am saying?  It is so easy to be conformed by the world so that we become used to blatant sin.  TV, movies and other forms of media can make us insensitive and blind to the works of the devil in our midst.  I think we would do well to pray and ask God for the same kind of passion that the psalmist shows.  We may not express it in the same way.  But, certainly our love for the glory of God should stir up strong emotions when we see our precious Jesus dishonored in our land.  And those emotions should move us outward in powerful and positive ministry, in the name of Jesus and for His glory. 

Verse 159:  “See how I love your precepts; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your love.” — There is only one place in all of the universe that is completely safe and totally satisfying.  That place is found only in the love of God.  It is a diabolical lie of the devil that teaches that we will find the locus of our joy and contentment in the self.  The language of self-esteem is found nowhere in all of Scriptures.  It is in losing ourselves for Christ’s sake that we truly find ourselves.  It is in denying ourselves and picking up our cross that we discover the treasure for which we were made.  Safe in the love of Jesus, no power can snatch us from His strong arms of grace.  Listen again to the assurance that Paul gives us in Romans chapter 8: 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: 
‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”  Romans 8:35-39.

Verse 160:  “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.” — Finally, the psalmist closes this stanza in the same way he closed the previous one.  Our hope, our boldness, our peace is founded upon one awesome truth:  God’s righteous laws are true and they are eternal.  Every word we read in the Holy Book is perfect, trustworthy, and right.  We can build our lives confidently upon them.  No storm, no wind, and no enemy can destroy the life that has Jesus and His truth as its foundation.  These words are just as true now as when they were first spoken by our Creator and our Redeemer.  They will not change no matter what our culture claims.  Heaven and earth may pass away but the Word of God will last forever.  The same powerful Word that saved my father and transformed his life from a rebellious teen into a humble servant of Christ can do the same today in me and my sons.  Let us give thanks to our God for giving us His righteous eternal words.  Because of what He has shown us in that Word, we can have a strong, bold and relevant faith.  Let us live with all our might for the glory of God and for the joy that is ours in Him alone. 

“God never pursues his glory at the expense of the good of his people, nor does he ever seek our good at the expense of his glory.  He has designed His eternal purpose so that His glory and our good are inextricably bound together.” — Gerry Bridges