Religion: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

The latest viral video has Christians in a frenzy on social media. We push Social Justice, that we are to perform pure religion as mentioned in James, then we post a video that says we hate religion.

Let’s define religion.

As with many words, there are multiple meanings of that word. In this case religion can have a positive or negative connotation depending on the context in which it is used.

Definition 1: The service and worship of God or the supernatural. Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.

Definition 2: A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.

Religion in and of itself is not bad. It is service or worship of God. It is good works. As referenced in James 1:27, a pure form of religion is helping widows and orphans in their distress. Why? Because these are the “least of these” in our society. God defends the defenseless and we are His ambassadors, His hands and feet, so the responsibility is ours.

These works however will not save you. Your salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus, not by works.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

The problem with the Pharisees is that they were relying on their obedience to the Law to get them to Heaven. They were counting on their religious works. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because their works gave them a sense of self-righteousness, when in reality they were far from righteous.

They needed grace and forgiveness of sins for salvation, not religious works.

Righteousness needed to be imputed to them by the Righteous One, Jesus.

But after salvation religion doesn’t go away. Remember the first definition? It is actually the opposite, our good works should increase! Remember the theme of the Book of James… faith without works is dead. James reminds us that our responsibility to serve God doesn’t go away but increases.

Our motivation changes. No longer motivated to earn our salvation, we serve the least of these because Jesus did, and we love and imitate Him. In serving them we are serving the Lord.

What starts out as genuine faith can turn to religious ritual. Our flesh is drawn to religion. In the world system you have to work and earn everything, and this can carry over into our faith if we are not careful. We have to be continually reminded it was what Jesus did for us, not what we do for Him.

So there is just religion. Practicing pure and undefiled religion as a way to obey and worship God… good. Trying to use religion to earn your way to Heaven… bad.

Do I hate religion?

No.

Actually, I feel compassion for those caught on the treadmill of relying on religious works to save them. They need the Good News! They can break free and find rest.

They just need Jesus, His grace and mercy.

Praise God for that.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – James 1:27


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