Sincerity is a popular god. Intentions are all that matter, not the objective truth, rightness, or goodness of what is done. Except Sincerity-worshipers repent, they will suffer disastrous consequences on the Day of Reckoning.
1 Chronicles 13 is the perfect Bible chapter to illustrate and vindicate my pastoral concern about this. It recounts a dark day in Israel’s history, when God’s holy people were very sincerely wrong and suffered for it. The shocking death of Uzzah stands in the sacred record as a neon warning sign about fatal sincerity.
One test of our own perspective on this matter is our internal response to the story. Idolatrous devotees of Sincerity are bound to be deeply offended—even enraged—by the story and the way it portrays God’s startling act. One example of offense taken is this profoundly blasphemous paragraph:
Well, well, well, look at how gracious God was for Uzzah’s loving attempt to keep the ark from falling to the ground. Does it surprise you that God killed Uzzah for trying to do a good dead [sic]? It doesn’t surprise me one bit because I’ve come to see God for what he really is; a hateful, unforgiving tyrant with no appreciation for his own creation.
http://noreligionrequired.com/tag/uzzah/ (accessed 19 Nov 2014)
See how this blasphemer characterizes the sinful act as “Uzzah’s loving attempt” and then arrogantly condemns God’s holy indignation and righteous judgment as evil! Good intention combined with effort are supposed to be good enough for God, and if not, then He’s at serious fault. Also notice the subtle suggestion that God is obligated to be perpetually “gracious,” failing to appreciate that grace is always given or withheld according to God’s sovereign pleasure. Every single instance of divine forbearance, forgiveness, and delight toward sinful people ought to be a matter of perpetual amazement to us. Uzzah’s death was just, and that is enough. Instead of changing his mind, this God-hating blogger just digs in because his warped perspective does not accord with God’s true nature and His ways with men.
On the other hand, if we approach this story in the fear of God, we must be deeply impressed with His holiness, Word, and true worship.
We would not for a moment denigrate sincerity, as far as it goes. Scripture emphasizes its importance, especially in divine worship (e.g., Josh 24.14; 2 Cor 1.12; Eph 6.24). Of course insincere worship is an affront to God who knows our inner motives better than we do.
But the Uzzah story makes the point with a vengeance that sincerity is not enough. For one thing, the record says they were careful to transport the ark in “a new cart” (v. 7) made just for this sacred service. Further, “David and all Israel played [were celebrating, ESV] before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets” (v. 8). Their intention was to honor God, and they went at it with much zeal and holy boldness. And even Uzzah, by extending his hand to steady the Ark (v. 10), surely purposed in his heart to please God and promote His glory. All this is granted, and emphasized here.
That is what makes the insufficiency of sincerity and God’s severe judgment stand out in bold relief. The sin that provoked God was a lack of faith, and perhaps of knowledge, and certainly of reverence. One writer aptly calls it “pious disobedience,” and explains,
The Levites, or, more particularly, the Kohathites, were expressly commanded to bear the ark. The manner of bearing it was also commanded. Rings were appended, through which staves were run. These poles, covered with gold, were to be supported on the shoulders of the bearers. They were forbidden to touch the ark upon pain of death (Num 4.15). Such was God’s command. In transporting it from the house of Abinadab, David infringed the divine command by directing the ark to be borne on a cart drawn by oxen (John Girardeau, Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church, 1888).
Incidentally, God was gracious to His people on this occasion. Though the guilt of the sin was shared by all, only one man was struck dead. Then the Lord blessed them in their reformed worship (cf. 1 Chron 15.12-15).
Religious zeal without a spiritual knowledge of God’s Word is characteristic of the unconverted who are lost in their sins, like apostate Israel in Paul’s day (Rom 10.1-2). They persisted in an impossible ambition—to be righteous enough by themselves, without Christ, to earn God’s favor and blessing (Rom 10.3-4).
When it comes to religion, that just is what the fallen human nature is still inclined to do. It seems that the masses today tenaciously cling to the illusion that it does not really matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere in it. It does not matter how you worship, as long as you worship in your own way. All the religions of the world are “faiths,” rather than massive systems of idolatry and immorality resisting the one true faith of biblical Christianity (Eph 4.5). Just like the Jews of old, they are “ignorant of God’s righteousness,” the only righteousness that can justify a sinner, even Jesus Christ, given by grace alone and received by faith alone, plus absolutely nothing.
The Lord must be worshipped, then, “in sincerity and in truth” (Josh 24.14). If this phrase is not mere hendiadys, it may be adding biblical conformity to sincerity as a description of what the Lord requires of us—a conformity that is explicitly required in many other passages. Even as Reformed churches have confessed for centuries:
The acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures (1689 LBCF XXII.1).
The world hates this truth, but humble believers are grateful to escape the eternal punishment due to sincere but unscriptural worshipers. Ω
D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed)
Exeter, New Hampshire USA