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.