A frequent accusation I hear amongst my brothers and sisters, as well as the secular culture of America, is that religion is a problem. “Religion is bad,” says the typical Evangelical. “But relationships with Jesus are good.” Today, it seems that in order to follow Jesus, you must be against religion. The word now leaves a bitter taste for being associated with unloving, hypocritical, and unfaithful Christians who are living today. People are tired of seeing those who call themselves “religious”, and so they preach against religion and being religious.
First and foremost, I am also concerned with the hypocrisy of many Christians today. There is a growing trend for cruel, ungodly, and unjustified judgement for the sinner. The principle of love is definitely forgotten in many churches. The gospel has been traded in some places for cheap theatrics that are intended to frighten people into religion. There is a sense that people follow their own God through traditions rather than the truth of the gospel, and that shouldn’t be any less concerning to a believer.
However awful it is that there are many so-called Christians that are too harsh, what is equally disastrous is that there are many people in churches who are too soft. It’s now cool to wear Christian t-shirts, to sing popular (and may I add shallow) Christian songs, and to hold whatever kind of doctrinal standpoint one can believe in as long as it brings them close to “Jesus” (the “Jesus” not of the Bible, but of the mind of the individual). The gospel is also being traded in these kinds of congregations for cheap theatrics, only this time it is making people feel comfortable and relaxed in their own sin. It is almost as if Jesus doesn’t care about sin or judgement and that should also be alarming to any discerning Christian as well.
With the rise of the boycott of Beauty and the Beast (2017), anti-religion sermons and books, and the Trump ordeal, many have questioned the legitimacy as well as the need for religion. I want to appeal to all who are my brothers and sisters in Christ that I understand why many of you want to throw away the word religion, but I urge everyone to realize that religion is not a bad word. In fact, if anything, religion is a good word to use for the Christian faith. Here are the three definitions of religion:
1) The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially God or gods.
2) A particular system of faith and worship.
3) A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance to.
Even by the standards of our culture, Christianity fits into religion. Now, some Christians might say something like this: “Oh, no! Christianity is something completely different from religion.” Is it really? Is Christianity different from the belief and worship of God? Is Christianity different from a particular system of faith and worship? Is Christianity different from the pursuit and interest of God and His word? News flash: Christianity is religion. Christianity not only agrees with all the standards of the definitions of religion, but it even commits to them. Christianity’s supreme purpose is to worship God, to teach the doctrines we hold so dearly to, and to be satisfied with God’s will.
This is made more obvious in James 1:26-27 (ESV) where the apostle writes, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” God has nothing against religion. In fact, God loves it. He is the one who came up with the grounds of the law, gave us a book containing all sufficient knowledge about Him, and is the one who wants us to dedicate ourselves to following Him unconditionally. God loves the cheerful giver, the law keeper, and the disciples throughout all ages of history. Nevertheless, there is a great deception as to what true religion is.
The writer of this epistle makes himself very clear when he says, “If anyone thinks he is religious…” because religion is not about the doing, but about who you are. Your heart must not be deceived into thinking you are in true religion, but rather you must be assured of it. Today, the Roman Catholic Apostate (no I will not call it a part of the Church) teaches that one is not redeemed by the all-sufficient sacrifice of the Lamb of God but that we must be in continual renewal since we are only saved by penitence and deeds. Many have been deceived into believing that confession, the eucharist, and the gathering of the mass will save anyone from the torments of Hell. Only true religion can give someone the assurance that God has saved the individual by grace. There should be no extra convincing other than the cleansing blood of Jesus.
The epistle continues on when it says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: …to keep oneself abstained from the world.” The issue of religion is not whether or not you know the words to every hymn or if you are able to recite the Westminster Confession backwards, but rather it is about your walk with Christ. So many Christians don’t realize that when they say they are against religion, they are actually 100% for it. The problem is that many have been taught that religion is not the same with following Jesus. On the contrary, one can’t follow Jesus without being religious. Religion is not the enemy; it is the ally.
Though religion is good, we must be careful about what we define as religion. Some may say that the true religion is Islam, Mormonism, or Catholicism when it’s none of those things. True religion is being abstained from the world, and being rid of the evil found in it. It is impossible to be cleansed from sinfulness in every religion. All religions claim that the only way to appease God is through actions of the flesh, when in reality it is the opposite. The true religion states that there is no way to please God. The only way to please God is if God came down Himself and gave Himself for us. Strange as it may be, that’s exactly what God did.
Here is true religion: God became man, Jesus Christ, and took the place for us to receive the penalty of sin. He drank the cup of the wrath of God, and was pierced so that we may be healed from our iniquities. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” the Father in Heaven was pleased for sin could now be atoned for. It is only by God’s providence that true religion can be found, but nevertheless God is merciful and gracious to forgive those who come to Him. He will pour out His Spirit to anyone who asks, so that anyone may join the true religion which leads to salvation from sin, and a gracious reward of eternal life. Let the words of Jesus in John 14:6 (ESV) be a calling, an inspiration, and an encouragement to strive for the true religion, which is to follow Christ, “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'”
Soli Deo Gloria.