What Does the Bible Say About True Religion?
What Is Religion?
There are many definitions and viewpoints on what religion is. Here are a few from our old friend Webster:
1. A belief in a divine, superhuman, power or principle, thought of as the Creator of all things.
2. The manifestation of such a belief in worship, ritual, conduct, etc.
3. Any system of religious faith or practice.
4. There are leaders in the Church who say that "religion" is man's attempt to reach God (by good works).
When you go to a hospital emergency room, they ask you your religious preference. Or if you belong to a certain denomination and worship at a church or synagogue regularly, some people will say, “Oh Susan over there is very religious. She goes to church every Sunday and is always doing church work.” Or you may hear, “Sam is always reading and talking about the Bible, he’s very religious.”
The bottom line is, religion is man's attempt to earn favor with God by good deeds and adherence to rules, laws, and dogma. Legalism.
The Religious People of Jesus' Day
The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were the epitome of “religious.” They practiced religion diligently. They went to Temple and synagogue faithfully. They were teachers of the law and knew every jot and tittle of the Old Testament, or so they thought. They believed, so they said, in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Moses and the prophets. They had God and Torah all figured out and the am ha-eretz (the common people of the land of Israel) should be falling all over them in reverence and awe because of their vast knowledge of Torah and exemplary of lives of religious piety. They wore colorful, rich, and extravagant garments and phylacteries, and all the other adornments of learned Jewish leaders. But as we read in the Scriptures, that was all show. Jesus pegged them to a T. “Hypocrites, brood of vipers,” He called them. They prayed loudly in the streets to be noticed by men, but if someone who was suffering came to them, they only prayed so their fancy and lofty prayers would impress their hearers.
The religious Pharisees loved to tithe to the very cent publicly for the praise and reverence of men. Yet they would walk by the blind beggar at Nicanor gate and drop in a coin without even noticing him as a person, or they looked at him with loathing and disgust.
Piety Versus Humility
A perfect example of a religious person in the Bible is taken from Luke 18. I refer to this story in my Beatitudes articles. Listen:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NLT).
This Pharisee was a legend in his own mind. He spent so much time trying to convince God and the world that he was such a righteous fellow, that he actually believed it. The New King James version says "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself." He was speaking more to himself than God, patting himself on the back. As a religious man who felt he was so much like God, he cared nothing for the tax collector who was repentant. If people who profess faith in God cannot have compassion or love others caught in the lifestyle of sin, then most likely they are religious, not spiritual.
The tax collector entered into a spiritual life when he humbled himself before God, recognizing, confessing and turning from his life of sin, he pled for and received God's grace and forgiveness.
The True Meaning of the Sabbath
Whenever Jesus did a miracle on the Sabbath, the Pharisees got all up in arms saying that Jesus broke the law by working on the Sabbath. The Bible says, “Then He turned to them and said, 'Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?'" (Luke 14:5).
On another such occasion He said, “I have a question for you. Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9).
In their pride they refused to listen to or heed Jesus' common sense questions. They were not in the business of compassion or people. They were in the business of self-importance and judgment. Matthew 23 clues us in on what Jesus thought of their religiosity. In fact, not only did Jesus tell them what he thought about their religiosity, he warned the good people of the land. “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Today we hear lots of people say they are spiritual, not religious, and they do not like organized religion because it didn't work for them. When you speak to them further about their spirituality, it is frequently a hodge-podge of their own subjective ideas of what they want God to look like. They are into good works and all kinds of ethereal ideologies.
Organized religion means different things to different people. For some it is cold, formal, legalistic church life. For others it is passionless, judgmental Christians who do church rather than be the Church. And for still others it is attending a healthy, Bible teaching, spirit filled church but have no desire to commit their lives to a God that doesn't fit into their preconceived mold. Don't hear my tone as disdainful. I experienced some of these, and I am sad for people who have attended churches that heaped guilt, demands, rules, and judgment for everything they did. Their are many loveless churches out there, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of hungry souls that were looking for love, acceptance, truth and freedom from the burden of sin.
But for those who went to a healthy church where the good news of Jesus was delivered, I want to ask - what, or better yet, who didn’t work for you? Did you hear something from the pulpit or the Bible that required you to take some sort of responsibility or decision toward a relationship with Christ and you didn’t want to do it? Or, did someone hurt you or do things that you felt were not the right way?
Going to church doesn't make one a Christian. Going to church doesn't give one eternal life with Christ in heaven. Christian singer, songwriter, and preacher, Keith Green once said, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger." If we go to church and do good works to feel good and feel better about ourselves, we may as well not go, as it will not help our eternal destination.
Religion doesn't work, good works don't work, church in and of itself does not work to bring us inner peace and hope for eternal life in heaven. Only Jesus can do that for us.
So What is True and Genuine Religion?
James defines what true religion should be, plain and simple: “True and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father is caring for the widows and the orphans in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” Jesus' message was not only "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind," but also to "Love your neighbor as yourself." This is what James is talking about.
Look around the world today and you will see a lot of misfortune and injustice. The people who are on the streets, the people struggling with mental illness who have fallen through the cracks, the lonely, abandoned elderly tucked away in nursing homes, children who are being abused and neglected, people who are suffering injustice - all these who are whom James is speaking of when he says widows and orphan's. They are anyone who is suffering and in need of aid.
And of course there are millions who need to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. The Reverend Pat Robertson did some research many years back and said he found out there was drastic cutting of a government benevolent fund for the poor, but they were spending bus loads of money measuring the flatulence of cows for methane gas. Of course we are talking politicians there, not religious people. But sadly, it is that way with some people who declare themselves religious, or Christian. None of this is anything new under the sun. It’s been that way from the beginning.
If we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we need to be genuinely and biblically religious as James stated it. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is being the hands and feet of Jesus by reaching out to others in need. This is how we go about our Father's business.
Mother Teresa - The Hands and Feet of Jesus
When We Give to Others, We Give to Him
"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ "(Matt. 25: 35-40).
Related Hubs by Lambservant
- Tales of Feeding and Loving the Homeless on the Streets of Seattle: Part 1
Our sandwich ministry to the men and women living on the streets of Seattle has been a joy, but also heartbeaking and a true reality check.
- Tales of Feeding and Loving the Homeless on the Streets of Seattle: Part 2
Like most big cities, Seattle has a large population of men and women with nowhere to call home. This is the 2nd part of my story of feeding the homeless with our little band, The Sandwich Ministry.
- Washing the Disciples Feet: An Example of Humility
Humility was an example Christ set for us. How can we walk this journey called life in humility like Jesus did?
© 2010 Lori Colbo