I was sitting in a room with a bunch of friends and all of a sudden the conversation turned to religion. I was surprised to find my friends, who all were evangelicals had nothing good to say on the topic of religion. It was almost as if “religion” had become a four-letter word. I had one friend even exclaimed I’m not religious… I’m a follower of Jesus! The entire group seemed to take great pride in that statement and everyone seemed to cheer this friend on. They all agreed with amazing enthusiasm at his idea. I felt very discomforted by this topic and the view. This friend when on to say that religion was ultimately the worst thing he had ever experienced.
I understand that there is such a thing as a bad kind of religion. It is the kind that is focused on achieving God’s acceptance and very human-centered. It tries to promote people into acting a certain way in order to earn merits with God. I don’t believe that we can earn God’s love more when we perform religious practices. I don’t believe that our relationship is based on how God views us. It is my belief that the Scriptures state that the grace of God is free for those who trust in Jesus Christ. I don’t see performance as a valid part of connecting with God. That is definitely the negative side of religion. That is the kind of religion that kills the innocence of true faith. James states in James 1:26 that kind of religion is a “worthless” kind of religion.
We have to understand though that there is another side of religion that’s not “bad.” James also spoke of a kind of religion that God “accepts as pure.” This is good religion in my eyes. It’s the kind of religion that comes from God. It unifies believers and is very powerful!
This is the kind of religion that God views as pure! It is a religion that is binding yourself to practices not because you think it will earn more favor with God but because you want to experience more of God through disciplines and practices that lead you into it deeper kind of faith. Once you’ve experienced God it’s almost as if you can never get enough or at least that’s the way God wants it. What’s the difference between good and bad religion? I would say that bad religion is centered around man’s desire to seek God’s approval. Good religion is centered around the confident faith of knowing that God loves us but a sincere desire to simply experience more of God and out of that awestruck acceptance of his Holiness and his Grace we desire to go deeper by wanting to love him more through these practices/disciplines. I realize that for some these differences might seem subtle, but they are very different and we must acknowledge them as such.
James mentions binding ourselves to “good works.” This means caring for others like widows and orphans. James also talks about binding ourselves to things that keep us from being influenced or taken away by the world.
A good religion should be in the context of caring for those who are in need, to be steadfast in prayer, to be fasting in order to engage more deeply with God and to seek deeper intimacy within Christian community.
I think the question we should be asking is what helps us stay near to the Lord and away from the lure of temptation?
I believe that is good kind of religion.
Scripture encourages us to “devote” ourselves to prayer, and the reading of scripture. We are encouraged to devote ourselves to deepening our faith through practices and disciplines. We can find numerous passages that call us to consider deepening our devotion in the context of faith.
If we truly believe Jesus is God than we are called to respond in accepting this truth or denying it. If we accept Him than I do believe we are required to further respond with a devotion that binds us to seek more of Him and more of the cross, which needs to result in us loving Him more.
We should not love him more, believing that He will love us more but the acknowledgment of His holiness and grace should lead us to simply not be able to do anything but love Him more and as a result, love others more.
I will confess that I think it is very sad that many evangelicals take such pride in being non—religious.
I guess I have a contrary view. I think religion isn’t only good but necessary. If only we were more religious. I have to confess that I’m a fan of Religion!