Zechariah 7:5-6 – Say to all the people of the land and the priests, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?”
“I’m not talking about a religion, but a relationship with God.” That sentence became one of the most popular Christian platitudes of the last few decades. People began to reject the concept of “organized religion,” assuming that they could find something more favorable around another corner. Their Christianity became based on what they perceived as their “relationship” with God, a relationship that was somehow separate in their minds from the commands of God to live as his people.
Why did such a view of what should be Christianity become so popular? Perhaps it is because of lives that could be questioned as we see in Zechariah 7:5-6. There are many people in the Christian world who live out rituals, but not for God. While those rituals may be performed in the name of God and under the auspices of the service of God, they are performed, in reality, for the ego of the supposed worshiper.
We need, however, to be careful not to see questions as we read in the passage above as a God-endorsed rejection of all things formal and religious. God would not recommend to his people that they reject religion. God, instead, would tell his people that in order to follow him, they must perform their religious acts for his glory and according to his will. God only rejects ceremonies when they are performed with false motives or when they are performed in direct contrast with his actual commands. God rewards neither empty ritual nor sincerely well-intentioned disobedience to his commands. God is no more satisfied with a person who rejects all formal religion for a supposedly more personal relationship than he is satisfied with a person who performs religious rituals and duties with no heart for his glory.
So what, then, are we to do? The answer is simple. IN Zechariah 7, God was not telling the people to stop fasting or to stop eating. He was, instead, telling them to start fasting and start feasting for him and not for themselves. God wants people to have hearts that deeply desire him and his glory. He wants people who perform religious actions for his glory. And no one will glorify God by refusing to offer him worship in the manner he has prescribed. We who know Jesus, do what God has commanded, including religious ceremonies and rituals, out of hearts for his glory. When we worship in that way, we will please him. God does not tell us to reject religion for relationship. Instead, he calls us to genuine religion that springs from relationship.