14:11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” 18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.
Many today are against religion and I don't blame them. Most religion is worthless however the people are of infinite value. God has created us all. His love for us is defined by the price Jesus paid for us. No one can objectively trace the path Jesus took on our behalf and conclude He does not love us.
These people Paul and Barnabas are preaching to are religious. They have a belief system. It even involves animal sacrifices just like ancient Judaism did. The truth is that all religions when closely examined are the same. All except one. All religions have a god or gods. All religions have a code of behaviours required by that god. All religions have a system of rewards and punishments tied to the performance of those behaviours. Buddhism has an 8 fold path to Nirvana. Hinduism promises a higher state in your next life based on good behaviour. Islam has a behaviour based rewards system also.
The truth is that many Christians live and act and believe as though Christianity is also a behaviour based rewards system even though it is anything but. The reason for this is that we think in those terms about everything. We struggle to fathom a God who loves us independent of our ability to perform.
When Paul, by the power of God, healed that crippled man the crowds reacted. Here was no ordinary man and if they could please him they would have great benefits! The sacrifices they offered were really not for Paul and Barnabas. They were for themselves. They were a payment in order to receive benefits. Pardon the graphic illustration but most religion is prostitution. We only give to get.
That's why Paul said what he said. He tried to show them God had not only creates them but had been blessing them all along because that is His nature. He is not a God to be bought off. The sacrifices offered from Adam to Abel to Noah and Abraham and down through history were never meant as a payment to God. They were meant to remind us of the great Sacrifice God was going to make when He sent His Son to rescue us, to rescue us from our warped image of a Father who needs to be paid off. To free us from the ideas that God loves some of us more than others based on our performance or nationality or gender or religious affiliation etc...
God is love. Our choices do not make Him better or worse or change His love for us. That's why the Bible quotes God in several places saying "I desire mercy, not sacrifices." History shows men offering more and more sacrifices believing it would make God happier with them when all the time He just wanted them to see and understand in every sacrifice a symbol of His mercy toward us. There will not be an eternity with God because of the great things we did for Him but because of His mercy toward us. Jesus is the reason we have hope. He is the living manifestation of the heart of God. Anything we attempt to add is just useless religion that twists our picture of Him into something resembling prostitution.