Dear friends, the events that have happened in the last 2-3 years have alerted a number of people and many are taking the signs of the times seriously. But on the flip side of it, a great majority of Christians are getting caught up in mere external religious duties. And St. Paul clearly mentions that this is one of the signs of the end times where people will hold on to the outward form of our religion, but reject its real power. (2 Timothy 3:1, 5). In another place, he writes… I can assure you that they are deeply devoted to God; but their devotion is not based on true knowledge. (Romans 10:2). And Paul goes on to say that such people end up opposing the truth and will not get very far. (2 Timothy 3:8,9)
Now, the main reason why a person goes wrong in his devotion to God is that he thinks that he has to deal with sin by means of his own efforts. He fails to see the provision made by God even before the world came into existence. He saved us and called us to be His own people, not because of what we have done, but because of His own purpose and grace. He gave us this grace by means of Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but now it has been revealed to us through the coming of our Savior, Christ Jesus... (2 Timothy 1:9-10).
Now going back to what Paul wrote to Timothy about the last days, we read as follows… Remember that there will be difficult times in the last days. People will be selfish, greedy, boastful… (2 Timothy 3:1, 4). In fact, this is in line with what is happening in today’s world. Sin is increasing in leaps and bounds. It is even more challenging therefore to remain deeply devoted and faithful to God. But again, St. Paul gives us the good news: Where sin increased, God's grace increased much more. (Romans 5:20). In other words, whether sin is increasing or decreasing, God’s way of saving His people has always been by means of grace alone. And in the last days too, it will be by grace alone – grace which is much more than sin itself.
A person who holds on to the outward form of religion rejects this gift of grace from God and in turn relies more on the Law. He may be deeply devoted to going for daily Mass, praying many rosaries, attending retreats, and doing a lot of other religious activities; but all such devotions have no meaning if one does not rely on grace. And in order to receive that grace, one must come to the fountain of grace – Christ. (John 1:17).
In Jesus’ time, we are told that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were deeply devoted. They committed their lives to studying the Law and teaching it to others. Not only did they perform every single religious duty the right way but they also ensured that others did the same. They were so caught up in this so-called “deep devotion” that they failed to recognise Jesus when He came. They refused to drink from the fountain of grace. Instead, we are told that they would keep ‘a close watch’ on Him to see if He was going against the Law. (Luke 6:7). On another occasion, they targeted His disciples because they were seen picking the heads of wheat. (Mark 2:23-24). Isn’t this the same error that we often get into? We too watch closely and we look down on others who are not attending daily Mass, or praying the same number of rosaries and novenas that we pray, etc. We tend to think highly of ourselves as being deeply devoted; but actually, we are rejecting grace.
Being deeply devoted to God must be based on the true knowledge of God. Knowing Him ultimately leads us to the realisation of our own wretchedness and the need for grace. At one time, Paul too was deeply devoted to God but his devotion was not based on true knowledge. He confesses it… You have been told how I used to live when I was devoted to the Jewish religion... I was ahead of most other Jews of my age in my practice of the Jewish religion, and was much more devoted to the traditions of our ancestors. (Galatians 1:13-14). Again, we find him speaking about his devotion to God in Philippians 3:5-6. But then he concludes… But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ's sake. Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord… All I want is to know Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8, 10).
Jesus Himself was deeply devoted to the Father. When He drove the animals, vendors and money changers out of the Temple, His disciples remembered the Scripture that says… "My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire." (John 2:17). But please note carefully what Jesus said as He was cleansing the Temple… “Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" (John 2:16). The words ‘My Father’ make all the difference. They speak volumes about the personal intimacy that Jesus had with the Father. In other words, Jesus’ devotion was based on the true knowledge of His Father. This is what drove Him to accomplish His mission on earth. This is the kind of devotion that we also must have. Jesus must become for me, “My Jesus”. His Father must become “My Father” too. Grace comes to us then. St. Paul would mention at the beginning of almost every letter that he wrote: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”
Therefore, considering the times that we are living in, it is very important that we examine our devotion to God. God wants to save all of us. But only those who rely on His grace will be saved. It will be as it happened at the time of Isaiah. Sin had increased to such an extent that even the prophets of God were killed. And Isaiah cried out to God… "Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me." What answer did God give him? "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not worshiped the false god Baal." (Romans 11:3-4). And St. Paul goes on to say… It is the same way now: there is a small number left of those whom God has chosen because of His grace. His choice is based on His grace, not on what they have done. (Romans 11:3-5).