(And How Do I Avoid it?)

By Brother Michel Lankford

A Snake swallowing his own tail. The epic example of useless effort

“Brother Michel, why do many people leave Christianity after reading the Bible?

Brother Michel, I‘ve heard mention Vain Worship from time to time.” So, What does Vain Worship truly mean? Why is it so bad?

Neighbor, I thank you for your Question. I put both of these questions together as one, because the questions are essentially the same. What I mean is, if you take the time to answer one, then you will also answer the other by default.

Why Leave Church AFTER Reading the Bible

The straight up answer is that many times what these people are reading in their Bibles, and what they are being told or experiencing in church often does not match; meaning that church leadership is saying one thing, but the Bible is telling them something different, and often times even something opposite than what the church is saying. So, these believers are often confronted with the uncomfortable task of having to make a decision.

  • Do I go through the motions and keep doing what the church says and does, and pretend that I don’t see that they are clearly NOT matching up with Scripture? Do I just keep silent, and not make waves to get along?
  • Do I jump with both feet into earnestly trying to obey what Scripture says, and ignore church leadership and tradition in order to obey what Scripture says? If I choose to do that, then what will I do for spiritual support and fellowship?
  • Do I throw up my hands and reject both the church and the Scriptures, and choose to believe that people are making stuff up as they go anyway, so it’s all meaningless?

Scenarios like the ones that I just described would almost be comical if it was a cartoon. Unfortunately, it is not a cartoon. People’s relationship with Almighty God, and their eternal salvation is at stake here! What people decide to do when they are confronted with questions like this, can make all of the difference between being saved, or being eternally condemned. That’s why this is anything but funny.

The reason that many Christians leave churches after reading the Bible is because they want to follow what the Bible teaches and they do not want to follow traditions of men. Once you start reading and studying the Bible for yourself, you start learning that what a lot of Christian churches do is actually AGAINST the Bible. They don’t want to commit what Jesus Christ called Vain Worship.

Not as many people are leaving, “Biblical Christianity,” as you might think. They may be leaving organized churches, but they still believe in YHWH Almighty God. They still believe that Messiah is the Son of YHWH. They still believe Messiah died for their sins and that YHWH raised Him from the dead. They still believe in following the written text of Scripture as best they can.

The reason that many believers are leaving organized churches after reading the Bible is because a lot of the traditions that organized churches celebrate on a regular basis are actually AGAINST what the Bible teaches that believers should do. If a person is trying to be a truly Biblical Christian, they discover that they CANNOT legitimately honor some of the customs and traditions and behaviors that have become commonplace in modern and postmodern Christianity today; because when they do that they are actually VIOLATING what Scripture teaches that believers are supposed to do.

What many of these Christians are trying to do who are leaving traditional churches; they are trying to get back CLOSER to what the Bible says that a YHWH and a Messiah follower are required to do according to the Scriptures. They are trying to DO Acts 5:29. They are trying to obey God rather than man.

What Does it Mean to ‘Do It In Vain?’

To do something “in vain” means that you do something, but it does not have the positive effect or the useful and positive results that you word aiming for when you did it. It literally means that you cause something to become worthless, or you render it to be useless.

It’s like the old joke goes; where the musicians says, “I’ve studied music. Five years in Vienna. Five years in Paris. Five years in London. 15 years IN VAIN. What he’s really saying is that after 15 years of practicing music, he became no better as a musician than when he first started. He was practicing in vain; because no positive results were being achieved for all the effort that he was investing in trying to learn music.

There are Many things we Can Do ‘In Vain’

For example, Scripture clearly tells us that it is possible to use the Name of (יהוה YAHWEH) in vain, (Exodus 20:7). It is possible that we can render YHWH’s Name to become useless or meaningless, by not using His Name properly, or not using it with proper reverence and respect.

  • It is possible for our religion to become vain and empty, (James 1:26).

As It Is Written: “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. (James 1:26 NKJV)

Let’s settle in, and chew on this for just a second. According to Scripture, we can literally CAUSE our entire religion to be rendered worthless and meaningless, (we can have VAIN Religion), in God’s eyes, if we do not learn to bridle and control our mouth. If you respect the Biblical Standard, James 1:26 kind of puts the importance of developing mouth control into a much higher priority bracket. We don’t want our religion to become a vain, worthless and meaningless religion in God’s sight. What would be the point? I don’t want to have vain and worthless religion. I want to have a religion that God will be honored with, and will be pleased to bless me in it. That means I must develop mouth control at the very least.

  • It is possible for us to pray in vain or amiss, (Matthew 6:7; James 4:3).

As It Is Written: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:7 NKJV)

As It Is Written: “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, Even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9 NKJV)

  • When you use empty and repetitious words and phrases like a mantra or rosary
  • When you expect God to hear you, but you refuse to listen to His laws, His Commandments, and His Instructions.
  • When you pray for blessings to satisfy your own passions instead of trying to please God better
  • When you refuse to maintain good relationships with other believers

All of these things can render your prayers to become vain, useless and meaningless prayers, as far as God is concerned; because He won’t honor it, and it will not achieve blessed results.

It is ALSO possible to STUDY in VAIN as well.

As It Is Written: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1–7 NKJV)

  • If after all your studying you don’t know and respect God better than you did, then you studied in vain.
  • If after all of your studying, you don’t let God’s word convict you and change your thoughts, your desires, your words and your actions, then you studied in vain.
  • If after all of your studying you are not putting into practice the things you have studied so as to change your life so that you are more pleasing to the Father, then you have studied in vain.
  • If all of your studying doesn’t help you to know and obey the truth better than you did before, then all of your studying has become useless, meaningless and worthless. You studied in vain.
  • If you do not put in the practice the stuff that you learn and persevere in it until it transforms your attitudes and your habits into what pleases God, then all of your studying is in vain.

Please remember and never forget that it is not the Scriptures that you memorize and intellectualize that transforms you. It is only the Scriptures that you practice and do that transforms your life.

As It Is Written: “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:21–25 NKJV)

  • We have just seen where it is possible for people to use God’s name in vain, and to use His Name in such a way as to render it useless, meaningless or worthless.
  • We have just seen where it is possible where we can cause our religion to become vain. We can have our entire religion become useless, worthless and meaningless if we do not control our mouth.
  • We just seen that it is possible to pray in vain. Our attitudes, our desires and our behaviors can cause our prayers to become vain and meaningless. If we are not willing to hear and listen to God’s Instructions, then God’s not willing to hear our prayers.
  • We just saw how it is possible to study in vain. If we study, and we grow in intellectual knowledge, but it doesn’t make us more obedient to God’s Commandments and Instructions; if we study but in the end we don’t know God any better or we don’t obey God any better, than all of our studying was in vain.

What is Vain Worship?

Now that we have a clearer understanding that in this context vanity means that you are doing something supposedly for God, but God considers it to be worthless, useless, or meaningless in His Eyes, then you can apply the same definition framework to the concept of worship, and you can more clearly understand what vain worship is.

We Can Learn What Vain Worship Is By Comparing it True Worship

In basic terms, vain worship is fairly simple to understand, when you slow down a bit, and you take the time to recall the PURPOSE of Worship. The purpose of worship is to honor YHWH Almighty God.

  • The whole point of worship is about recognizing that Almighty God is God, (Recognizing WHO God is).
  • The whole point of worship is about choosing to honor and to respect HIS Authority; and choosing to submit to Him, with respect, with love and with faithfulness.
  • The whole point of worship is to learn what the Almighty Creator SAYS that HE WANTS to receive it from His People, and then choosing to give God what he says He wants, and NOT giving to God what WE prefer to give Him, and then expecting God to bless whatever we choose to give Him. It’s all about learning what makes God happy, and choosing to give Him that, instead of choosing to give God what WE PREFER to give God, and expecting God to bless it.

These three aspects are the MINIMUM of what True Worship is. Any attempted worship that does not at least do these three things faithfully, is NOT genuine worship to YHWH. If it lacks any of these three things, then it is not worship that YHWH Almighty will accept.

Some Biblical Examples of Vain Worship

In Genesis chapter 4, what Cain did was in fact Vain Worship. Why? Because Cain did not choose to change his offerings and his behaviors to do what would please the Almighty Father. Instead, Cain chose to try to force God to accept what Cain preferred to give to God, and when God did not accept it, Cain did choose to repent and change his ways. Cain’s solution was to murder his brother Abel, (who was worshiping correctly), probably assuming that with Abel gone, God would presumably have no choice but to accept Cain and his offerings, since he was the only descendent left. Regardless of what Cain assumed, God did not accept Cain’s offering as worship to YHWH. Cain was seeking to satisfy himself. He wasn’t seeking to honor and please YHWH.

In Exodus 32:1-10, the children of Israel grew impatient waiting for Moses to return with YHWH’s Instructions. They decided to take it upon themselves that they would worship YHWH the way that they wanted to; according to what seemed best in their eyes. So, they decided that they would copy the methods of worship that they learned while they were slaves in Egypt. They fashioned a golden calf and built an altar next to it. They called the golden calf by YHWH’s Name. Essentially, they said this golden calf is YHWH. Then THEY declared that the next day was going to be a Feast and a festival to YHWH.

When you read the passage, it is CRITICAL to divide things correctly here.

Israel’s Perspective: They SAID that they were worshiping YHWH. They declared what they were doing to be a feast, a festival and a celebration to YHWH Almighty God of the Bible. ‘We’re just adapting and using Egyptian worship traditions, practices and methods, and applying those to the worship of Almighty God of the Bible.’ That’s what Israel declared that they were doing. They were worshiping the REAL Almighty God, but they were going to use Egyptian methods, Egyptian practices and Egyptian traditions to worship the Almighty Creator.

The Heavenly Father’s Perspective: The critical point though is NOT what Israel told self that they were doing. The real issue is, what did YHWH Almighty God, THINK about what they were doing? What was the Heavenly Father’s reaction to what Israel did here? Was He happy? Did He say, ‘Well, these people put My Name on what they were doing, and so, since they invoked My Name over this festival that they created, I’m going to bless, I’m going to praise and I’m going to honor their efforts?’ NOT at ALL! In fact, if you read Exodus 32:1-10 carefully, you will see that God was so offended and incensed by what Israel did in this incident, that he was ready to wipe out the entire nation, and start building a brand-new Israel through the descendants of Moses. To say that Almighty God was unhappy is putting it mildly. When it comes to worshiping the Almighty Creator, what we think and what we feel about what we are offering in worship is not the issue, the question needs to always be, “Does this really please YHWH Almighty God?” In the end if God is not pleased with what we offered in worship, then our worship was in vain.

Messiah Describes Vain Worship

There are two main places in the Bible where Messiah described vain worship. One is found in Matthew 15:1-9. The other is found in Mark 7:1-13.

As It Is Written:  “Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”(Matthew 15:1–9 NKJV)

  • According to Messiah, when we take traditions that were handed down by human beings, and we treat them as if they were Commandments given by God, that is vain worship.
  • According to Messiah, when we violate the Commandments of God, but we keep man made religious traditions, instead of doing what God said to do, that is vain worship.
  • According to Messiah, when we treat man-made traditions as being so important that we make the Commandments of God to have no effect in people’s lives, that is vain worship.

(You can review similar teachings in Mark 7:1-13).

The point is, just because we do something and we put God’s name on it, or we do something, and we do it, “In the Name of Jesus Christ,” that doesn’t automatically mean that God is pleased with whatever we do, or however we bring it or just because we put His Name on it.

  • Don’t forget that the whole point of worship is about recognizing that Almighty God is God, (Recognizing WHO God is).
  • Please always remember that the whole point of worship is about choosing to honor and to respect HIS Authority; and choosing to submit to Him, with respect, with love and with faithfulness.
  • The whole point of worship is to learn what the Almighty Creator SAYS that HE WANTS to receive it from His People, and then choosing to give God what he says that He wants, and NOT giving to God what WE prefer to give Him, and then expecting God to bless whatever we choose to give Him. It’s all about learning what makes God happy, and choosing to give Him that, instead of choosing to give God what WE PREFER to give God, and expecting God to bless it.

In a very real sense, there is ONLY ONE way that we can successfully avoid VAIN WORSHIP. According to Jesus, when we lay aside the things that God Commanded, but we practice keeping religious traditions that human beings have handed down, then we commit Vain Worship. Isn’t that what He clearly said?

  • Think about it. There is only one way to avoid setting aside the things that God commanded, and that is to practice doing the things that God commanded us to do. We may have to improve and fine-tune as we go, but the only way to avoid setting aside the Commandments of God, is to practice KEEPING the Commandments of God.
  • Please consider this. Every religious tradition or religious practice that you do on a regular basis originates from somewhere. If it doesn’t specifically originate from something that God Commanded us to do in His Word, then that means that some human being came up with the idea, right? But we just read according to Jesus that if we lay aside what God commanded in order to keep traditions handed down by men, we are committing vain worship. So, if you are not actively keeping Commandments of God in Scripture, then whatever religious practice you’re doing had to come from some human being at some point, (it could be something you made up in your own head). The point is, according to Jesus, if we lay aside what God commanded us to do, in order to keep what any human being said to do, we are committing vain worship. The only way to avoid committing vain worship is actively practice what God said to do, and to not do what human being said to do whenever it violates any commandment given by God. That’s the only way to avoid vain worship. Do what God says, not what man says. Do what God says, not what tradition teaches. That’s the only way to avoid vain worship. That’s why I focus so much on the commandments and instructions I find in Scripture, because it’s the only way to avoid vain worship.

Until I see you next time, this has been Michel Lankford, with Discipleship Answers.

Let us pray.

Prayer to Overcome all Vanities

Blessed are You, Abba (יהוה YHWH) Almighty God; Creator and King of the Universe; Who sanctifies us with Your Commandments; Who establishes the days of our lives; and Who provides us everything that we need for life and for godliness. Blessed be Your Name. Have mercy upon us. You Rightly deserve all Glory, all Praise and all Honor. You rightly deserve to be worshiped as YOU prefer to be honored. Have mercy upon us.

Please wash us with the water of the Holy Spirit; ‘Ha Ruach Ha Kodesh;  (רוח קודש) , and with Your Unfailing Love. Please remove from us any uncleanness that would prevent us from having excellent fellowship with You.

Please forgive us our sins; wherever we have violated Your Laws, Your Commandments, Your Instructions, and Your Standards. Please forgive us where we have come short of what is most pleasing and honoring to You.

Mercifully forgive us our sins and many shortcomings. Apply Your Forgiveness, through the atoning blood sacrifice of Yahshua/Jesus (ישוע) the Messiah.

Mercifully transform us and fill us by Your Holy Spirit; ‘Ha Ruach Ha Kodesh;  (רוח קודש), and Your Unfailing Love, so that we will never use Your Name in vain; but instead, we will always bring true Glory, Honor, and Praise to Your Holy Name.

Mercifully transform us and fill us by Your Holy Spirit; ‘Ha Ruach Ha Kodesh;  (רוח קודש), and Your Unfailing Love, so that our religion would never be a vanity before You; but instead, help us to bridle our mouth; help us to show lovingkindness to the orphan, to the widow and to those who are genuinely oppressed. Help us to truly remain undefiled and uncontaminated by the sinful world. This is the religion that You say You want. This is the religion that YOU say You will accept. So help us to become more diligent, about having a religion that You say that you will accept.

Mercifully transform us and fill us by Your Holy Spirit; ‘Ha Ruach Ha Kodesh;  (רוח קודש), and Your Unfailing Love, so that we would never pray in vain. Mercifully make whatever changes are necessary in us, so that You will always be able to look kindly and to act favorably upon our prayers. Mercifully incline our hearts, and incline our ears to be willing to hear and obey Your Laws, Your Commandments, and Your Instructions. Grant that we will always be more willing to listen to You, so that You will be inclined to hear our prayers, and You would not find our prayers offensive in Your Sight. May You be glad to hear from us, because we have delighted ourselves in hearing and honoring Your Instructions.

Mercifully transform us and fill us by Your Holy Spirit; ‘Ha Ruach Ha Kodesh;  (רוח קודש), and Your Unfailing Love, so that we would not study in vain. Give us Grace to properly read, to believe, to understand, to obey and to persevere in obeying Your instructions from Your Word, until he transforms our actions, our character and our lives, to be pleasing in your sight. Grant that in our learning we will come to know and abide in the truth. Grant that we will have true godliness, and NOT DENY Your transforming power by the way that we live. Grant that our studying will produce the good fruit of a transformed life that is pleasing to You, and a blessing to others.

Mercifully transform us and fill us by Your Holy Spirit; ‘Ha Ruach Ha Kodesh;  (רוח קודש), and Your Unfailing Love, so that our worship would never be a vanity before you. Mercifully save us that we would not lay aside Your Commandments, in order to keep traditions the human beings have handed down., Instead, mercifully transform us, so that we will worship You in spirit and truth. Help us to truly cooperate with you, and to become the kind of worshipers that You are seeking to worship You. I want to become what is pleasing to you and the kind of person you are seeking to worship You. You deserve that from me. Help me to submit to you. Help me to cooperate with You continually, so that You can transform me into whatever is most pleasing to You.

I commit myself to Your merciful hands, so that You can accomplish this awesome work of Grace in my life.

Mercifully forgive us, save us, and deliver us from all things that are vain, meaningless, and worthless in Your Eyes.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.(Psalm 19:14 NKJV). OMEIN, & Omein.

Brother Michel Lankford