“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile,” once quipped Billy Sunday, the baseball player turned preacher.
As a result of seeing so many professed Christians going to church, but not living out their profession in their daily lives, some have supposed that religion is a bad thing. “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual,” has become a popular and oft-repeated mantra of many today.
George Barna, in one of his religious surveys of the “spiritual vs religious” crowd, found that “the spiritual, but not religious” hold much looser ideas about God, spiritual practices, and religion.”
Those spouting the “I’m not religious” notion opine that religion is institutional. Ritualistic. External. Limited to the confines of a church building. And not practiced in specific, concrete, and down to earth practical daily actions and attitudes.
James 1:26-27 clearly disputes that misinformed notion.
“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.”
The word “religion” actually means “an outward practice.” It is both internal and external. It speaks to our relationship with and our worship to God. It goes beyond ceremonies, special days, or rotely repeating five acts in the church building without reflection or relevance.
Though not exclusive, James informs us that the religious person practices his religion in three specific ways.
James repeatedly reminds his readers of the importance of their speech.
“Be slow to speak. Slow to wrath’ (1:19).
“Speak like those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (2:12).
Learn to bridle your tongue (3:1-3).
Don’t curse. Don’t lie. Don’t boast (3:9-14).
Don’t speak evil of one another (4:11).
Impetuous, hastily uttered and ill-conceived words either publicly or privately will produce regret. Angry explosions will rupture relationships. Ruin friendships. Wreck marriages. Or even worse.
The wise man reminds us that “he who restrains his lips is prudent” and “he who restrains his words has knowledge” (Prov. 10:19; 17:27). In fact, he observes that “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (17:28).
Religious people control their speech.
Ministering to the needs of “the least of these” is at the very heart of loving your neighbor, caring for one another, and actually serving Christ Himself (Matt 25:35-40). Attending a religious service is no substitute for engaging in service. Nor can we pay another minister to fulfill our own personal responsibility.
Widows, orphans, and the poor deserve our concern, care, and compassion.
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal. 6:10).
We have all different opportunities, abilities, and resources. There are more needs than any one of us can meet. We can’t do everything. But we can do something.
Religious people see and service others’ needs.
To be sanctified is to be set apart. Separated from worldly practices. And surrendered to God. It is being transformed and not conformed to the world (Rom. 12:1-2).
Pure. Undefiled. Unstained or unspotted. These words describe the religion of one who is both a hearer and a doer of the Word (Jas. 1:23). This kind of religion is unmixed, undiluted, and uncontaminated with the world’s debauchery, depravity, and dissipation.
Like Jesus, it’s possible to be “a friend of sinners,” without allowing sinful influences to infiltrate your heart, mind, and life. The best way to minister to those in the world is to let your light shine by being different from the world.
Religious people live a righteous and holy life.
God calls us to really be religious. And spiritual. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman