Pure and Undefiled Religion is This

Having grown up around a charismatic, evangelical church community, I soon picked up on the idea that it was bad to be “religious.”  I was inundated with phrases like,

“We need to be spiritual, not religious.”

“The people in that sect aren’t sincere, they’re just religious.”

“Don’t do something just out of religiosity.”

Ring a bell? This is the lingo of the modern American, non-denominational church.  We have looked at people who said they were followers of Christ, deemed their lives to be inconsistent with this claim or spiritually fruitless, and therefore decided that the outward expressions of what they believed made up a dead and dry lifestyle within the church, just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time.  They were “religious,” yes, but they weren’t really about the heart of God and the message of Christ for all people.

I’m not saying this hasn’t been true of many nominally “Christian” practices or doctrines.  I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t judge other believers by their fruit, since the Bible expressly obligates us to be discerning within the Body!  But as I grow and mature in my walk with Christ and my knowledge of the Scripture, I find it difficult to maintain my once-negative attitude towards the word, “religion,” especially since the very Scriptures I’m reading continue to use this word, define it, and condone it when applied properly.  “Applied properly,” is the key here.  Let’s take a look:

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 1 Timothy 5:4

Here, it doesn’t say that children shouldn’t be religious.  It simply instructs on HOW they should first put that religion into practice.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. James 1:26

Religion in and of itself is what we call “amoral.”  Like money or talent, it is neither good nor bad in its own right. It is only when placed in the hands of a moral or immoral human being that a judgment can be made about its application. Religion is simply the diligent devotion to practicing or implementing one’s set of beliefs.  It is in thinking that our form of religion is valuable when in reality it is worthless by Biblical standards–either in this life or in eternity–that we go “wrong” as Christians.

All major religions not centered on Christ alone are “worthless” by Biblical standards, such as Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.  But this is also true of the more insidious individual religions:  Pride, jealousy, self-centeredness, and those mentalities that focus primarily on earthly prosperity.  The Bible does not tell us not to be religious about good religion, only not to practice religion that is worthless, lifeless, and that misses the heart of Christ’s love for others.

So what is “good religion?”  Well, the Bible tells us that, too!

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

So, as followers of Christ, we need to be diligently religious about two things:

1.  Ministering to orphans and widows and those with no support system as each has need, and

2.  Keeping ourselves unspotted from the world.

The first instruction is clear–care for those who have need and especially for those who will never be able to return the favor.  But keeping ourselves unspotted from the world involves more than just cleansing our outward practices.  It also includes not allowing our minds to be polluted by the mentalities of the culture around us; mentalities of idolatry, and the worship and esteem of created things instead of the Creator.  Mentalities of compromise, of thinking that God is fine with whatever we do and will continue to bless us even in our rebellion.  The mentality that within man is the answer to all of man’s problems.

We must be very careful within the modern church not to adopt a lingo that actually contradicts the very Scriptures we claim to be reading.  If a person simply reads the Bible, saying to them that you “don’t want to be religious” is as much as saying that you don’t want to minister to orphans and widows and that you would like to look and act just like the world does.  Is that what we usually mean?  No… but until the Bible says otherwise, we had better be careful lest a learned heathen call us out on our own hypocrisy of semantics.

Human beings were created to be religious, and it is impossible not to be so about some thing or someone in life.  We are devoted to our favorite TV shows, our favorite authors, our favorite bands, our favorite sports, our favorite hobbies, family honor…  we are a religious species.  You will inevitably be religious about something.  Will that diligent devotion qualify as being pure and undefiled before God?

Regardless of our upbringing, background, or denomination, as followers of Christ the King, LET US BE VERY RELIGIOUS INDEED, increasing in this pure and undefiled religiosity each day, in a way that pleases and honors His Name and testifies to the nature of Christ Jesus Himself.

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Criteria for a Lukewarm Person

Examples of a Lukewarm Person as stated by Pastor Francis Chan in the Book, Crazy Love:

1. Lukewarm people attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians do”, so they go. (Isaiah 29:13)

2. Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church…as long as it doesn’t impinge on their overall standard of living. If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so. After all, God loves a cheerful giver, right? (1 Chronicles 21:24; Luke 21:1-4)

3. Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives (Luke 6:26; Rev. 3:1; Matthew 23:5-7).

4. Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one (John 10:10; Romans 6:1-2).

5. Lukewarm people are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for “extreme” Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm people call “radical” what Jesus actually expected of all His followers (James 1:22; James 4:17; Matthew 21:28-31).

6. Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable by talking about private issues like religion (Matthew 10:32-33).

7. Lukewarm people gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world. They feel satisfied that while they aren’t as hard-core for Jesus as so-and-so, they are nowhere as horrible as the guy down the street (Luke 18:11-12).

8. Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives (Luke 9:57-62).

9. Lukewarm people love God, but they do not love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength. They would be quick to assure you that they try to love God that much, but that sort of total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries and radicals (Matthew 22:37-38).

10. Lukewarm people love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves. Their love of others is typically focused on those who love them in return, like family, friends, and other people they know and connect with. There is little love left over for those who cannot love them back, much less for those who intentionally slight them, whose kids are better athletes than theirs, or with whom conversations are awkward or uncomfortable. Their love is highly conditional and very selective, and generally comes with strings attached (Matthew 5:43-47; Luke 14:12-14).

11. Lukewarm people will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money and energy they are willing to give (Luke 18:21-25).

12. Lukewarm people think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven. Daily life is mostly focused on today’s to-do list, this week’s schedule, and next month’s vacation. Rarely, if ever, do they intently consider the life to come. Regarding this, C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this” (Philippians 3:18-20; Colossians 3:2).

13. Lukewarm people are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor. They are quick to point out, “Jesus never said money is the root of all evil, only that the love of money is.” Untold numbers of lukewarm people feel “Called” to minister to the rich; very few feel “called” to minister to the poor (Matthew 25:34, 40; Isaiah 58:6-7).

14. Lukewarm people do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. They want to do the bare minimum, to be “good enough” without it requiring too much of them. They ask, “How far can I go before it’s considered a sin?” instead of “How can I keep myself pure as a temple of the Holy Spirit?” They ask, “How much do I have to give?” instead of “How much can I give?” They ask, “How much time should I spend praying and reading my Bible? Instead of “I wish I didn’t have to go to work, so I could sit here and read longer!” (1 Chronicles 29:14; Matthew 13:44-46).

15. Lukewarm people are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God (1 Timothy 6:17-18; Matthew 10:28).

16. Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament warned Israel that they were not safe just because they lived in the land of Israel, so we are not safe just because we wear the label Christian or because some people persist in calling us a “Christian nation” (Matthew 7:21; Amos 6:1)

17. Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens-they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them – they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live – they have life figured and mapped out. They don’t depend on God on a daily basis – their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God (Luke 12:16-21; Hebrews 11).

18. Lukewarm people probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever. They equate their partially sanitized lives with holiness, but they couldn’t be more wrong (Matthew 23:25-28).

Where do we stand?

Where do we go from here?

(Thanks to Calvary Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma for organizing this content.)