What is this “religion” we are saying “no” to?

religion |riˈlijən|
noun the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods: ideas about the relationship between science and religion.
• a particular system of faith and worship: the world’s great religions.
• a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance: consumerism is the new religion.

“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” James 1:26-27 (MSG)

When we look at the dictionary definition of religion above, you may think to yourself, “Why are we bashing religion?” But when we look at the words written in the bible, from James 1, we learn that there is a “real religion,” or in some other translations, “a religion the father accepts as pure and faultless.” Just reading these words leads us to a logical conclusion: if there is a real religion, there must be an unreal religion, and if there is a pure and faultless religion, there must be an impure and faulty religion. If this were not true, there would have been no need for James to include a clarifying statement about religion.

The type of religion that James would deem as false, impure or faulty, would be a religion that is found in self-deception. First in the demonstration of our lives. Earlier, James writes, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.” You see, we can fool ourselves into thinking that we are listeners when we are not. A listener hears the words of God, hears the teachings of Jesus, and acts on what they hear. Their listening does not stop on Sundays at 12:00, but continues as they align their lives to the life that they are following. James goes on to say that when we listen and follow, we find delight and affirmation in the action. Faith is not about what we say, it’s about how we live. The way that we live can either serve as a megaphone for our worship or a silencer for our worship. So, we say “no” to religion that is confined to a box on Sundays and not unleashed everyday where we live, work and play.

Another way in which religion is impure or faulty is in the area of our speech. Saying all of the “right things” is not the answer. In many cases, our knowledge of the “right answers” can actually keep us from truly following Jesus. Knowing the “right answers” isn’t enough, but rather our knowledge, which can puff up and lead to arrogance, ought to lead us to actively follow our Christ. So, we say “no” to religion that sounds right but doesn’t lead us into a real and active followship of Jesus where we live, work and play.

Our third way that religion can be impure or faulty is when our actions don’t make a difference in the way we live. We can go on a mission trip, but if it doesn’t impact the way we live, it’s just an act. We can give our money to the poor, but if it’s just a check and our hearts aren’t following the path of our debits then the is not pure and faultless. When we gather as a church, a table or just some friends talking, if our experiences to affect change in our lives then our conversations are just clanging symbols. So, we say “no” to religion that is filled with all kinds of religious acts that don’t make a difference in us where we live, work and play.

Sunday for the sake of Sunday is not an option. Church for the sake of church is not an option. Our lives and our vocations and our recreation must be impacted by the things we say and do. Join us, as we say “no” to religion and find life in the irreligious ways of Jesus.

Read Chapter 23 in The Story this week and discover the irreligious ways that Jesus started his ministry, from picking his disciples to turning water into wine.

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