On his second missionary journey, the apostle Paul came to the city of Athens. Perhaps if Dorothy had been traveling with Paul on this journey, she might have said, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Jerusalem anymore.” While Paul had preached in pagan cities before, Athens was unique.
When Paul arrived in Athens, “he saw the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). How full was it? Pliny, a Roman author and civil officer of the late first century, wrote that there were over 30,000 public idols in Athens. Think about that number. That’s not including any private idols that people had in their homes. It is estimated that this was more idols than the rest of Greece combined. Amazingly, the population of Athens was only 10,000 people. Paul saw the city was “full of idols”—30,000 idols and only 10,000 people.
When Paul stood up on Mars Hill to preach to these idolatrous folks about “The Unknown God,” he began by saying, “I perceive that in all things you are very religious” (17:22). Think about that statement. Were these people right with God? Certainly not! They didn’t even know Him! But, Paul still concluded that they were “very religious.” Is it enough to be “religious,” or does God expect more from us?
In Acts 10, we find a man who was also very religious. He was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (10:1-2). But, still, even he was not right with God and needed to learn and make changes (including working “righteousness,” as defined by God) to be “accepted by Him” (10:35). Being religious was not enough!
Jesus Himself envisioned the day of judgment when “many” would say to Him, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” (Matt. 7:22). These are very religious folks. They are so much “closer” to the Lord than the idolatrous (but religious) folks in Athens and even the Gentile (but religious) centurion. Still, even though they claimed to be doing things for the Lord “in His name,” they were not right with Him at all. At the judgment, Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me” (7:23).
Question #1: Are you religious? Question #2: Is that enough? Question #3: What have we convinced ourselves is “enough” religion to “please the Lord” and “make it to heaven” (just “enough” to get by)? Friends, “being religious”—yes, even being “very religious”—is not what God is looking for! He is looking for us to “do” His will (Matt. 7:21) and to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). To hear “well done” (Matt. 25:21) requires faithfully doing and serving!