Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Religion?

Not too long ago, I saw a friend's statement on Facebook that read, "I believe in God, but religion is EVIL!" And I recognized the sentiment from when I was about the same age. And, as much as the sentiment is right, the statement is wrong.

In Acts 26:5 Paul says,"Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." The word translated as "religion" from the original Greek speaks of a worship in reverence instead of mere ritual. And yet the Pharisees were known for ritual. The problem is not the robes & the ceremonies & the rituals, but the heart.


Look what James 1:26 says, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." If a man appears to be spiritual, but the heart isn't right, then he has the externals, but no internal worship. And that's what we're told in James 1:27. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Robertson's Word Pictures states that "this is not a definition of religion or religious worship, but only a pertinent illustration of the right spirit of religion which leads to such acts." Religion's gotten a bad rap!

In John 4:23-24, Jesus tells His disciples, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." And, when Peter speaks about not being the source of the healings he's performed, the word for his "holiness" in Acts 3:12 points to personal religiosity as NOT being what's needed.

Going back to Paul, we read in chapter 5, verses 8-11, of his letter to the Ephesians, "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." In the Bill Kraski translation, that might read: "You were sometimes bad news, but now you're enlightened, enriched & saved by God's grace. So act like it. Stop living in your old ways. Not only do you have God's goodness, righteousness & Truth showered on you, but you can show it to others. Test what comes your way to be sure it's acceptable to God. Don't spend your time in the thoughts & attitudes of your past life, but openly push them away." Admittedly a loose translation, but the idea's there. If you're like me, the first response to that is, "I can't do that!". And you're right. We can't. But God can!

And how will God do that for us? Well, we read in Romans 10:17 that "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Then there's Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more...." Complete those thoughts with 1 Corinthians 1:21b, "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." and what comes to mind? The Church! It's not fancy clothes, fake perfection, backbiting, judging and all the things that would make you say, "religion is EVIL!" If you've found a place that understands the grace of God, then it's a place to be strengthened & taught by the preaching of the Word of God, a place where the love of God & the fullness of His Body is fully expressed. It's one of the places where God can remove the separation between you & Him. And, if that's already happened, He can guide you through the maze of life, avoiding so much unnecessary misery. True worship, true religion is "in spirit and in truth."

Father, help us to have true religion in our lives, to be guided by Your Word in living, in worship, in how we see others, in how we deal with others, but most of all, let us always continue to draw closer to You. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

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