Faithless Faith

There’s a verse that has left me worried ever since I first came across it. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:22-23). It gave me pause because it’s frightening to think that Jesus, on the last day, would turn away many Christians, even those who seem most devoted to him. It made me wonder: why would Jesus do so? And how do I know I won’t be amongst those rejected?

As I reflected on Malachi, I realised that something similar is going on. It might not be plain on initial reading, but before we read Malachi’s rebuke of Israel, we must first remember that he’s speaking to a generation who had given up everything for God! These returnees from exile had left everything behind — livelihoods, properties, and belongings — to return to the rubble of ruined Jerusalem, with nothing in hand but a renewed zeal for God and a fresh hope for his blessings. Surely, we would think, God would be pleased with their newfound faith in him. And yet, he wasn’t. Instead, he rejected their offering, and turned a blind eye to their weeping (Mal. 2:13). It should make us uncomfortable. Why has God turned away from the same people who had once given up everything for him?

To Israel, the answer was obvious: God was unfaithful (Mal. 2:17b, 3:14-15). To God, the answer was even more obvious: Israel was unfaithful. Not only were they divorcing their wives (Mal. 2:14), but they were doing so in order to marry foreign women (Mal. 2:11)! Make no mistake — this wasn’t an issue of lust and passion; this was a matter of political expedience and religious safety-netting. Rather than wholly trusting in God, they now tried to cover their bases by marrying daughters of foreign gods whilst still worshipping him, on the off-chance that the pagan gods would protect them too. No wonder God rejected their half-hearted, double-minded worship of him.

Thousands of years later, Malachi’s warning still rings true for us today. God hates half-hearted worship. He loathes those who are outwardly obedient but inwardly riddled with compromise. Today’s passage ought to give us pause. Have we, like Israel, lost our initial zeal for God? Are we trying to place one foot in two camps by seeking friendship with the world, even as we worship God? Is our security now found in stable careers and families and the world’s recognition rather than God’s promises? And have we even taken a risk for Jesus recently? Friends, God will not hesitate to turn away many who say ‘Jesus is Lord’ but whose lives show otherwise. I pray that our faith will not be found wanting.