Somehow I knew the title of this post would catch your attention. And I am not just trying to get your attention, I am trying to make a point. A very important one. But before I do I want to show you what the dictionary has to say about the word religion.
- 1. The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.
- 2. Details of belief as taught or discussed.
- 3. The outward expression of a personal faith.
For the past month or so I have seen, circulating on Facebook, a video titled “Why do I hate religion?” I didn’t give too much importance to the video until I sat down to watch it. I must say that on the surface it sounds like the right thing to say, “I hate religion, but love Jesus”, but as I thought about it I couldn’t avoid thinking about the verse that both Cody and I have waved over our ministry for the past three years.
“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.” (James 1:27 ESV, emphasis mine)
According to this verse, our Christian faith is called a religion. And according to this verse the Christian religion ought to be a pure and undefiled one thereby the only true religion. In fact, I don’t even think there is true religion apart from Christianity.
If religion, as defined in the dictionary, is the outward expression of our personal faith and the belief and worship in a superhuman God, then Christianity is the only religion that is pure and undefiled for it is the only religion in which the outward expressions are the byproduct of the Holy Spirit, namely God Himself. If you take a close look at this verse in the book of James you realize that not only James is calling Christianity a religion, but he is also calling it pure and undefiled, and he asserts that it is a religion that involves both good deeds and unstained holiness before God.
Do you realize what this implies when we make statements such as “I love Jesus, but I hate religion”? It implies that we love the love and promises of Jesus without feeling obligated to prove to the world outwardly that we belong to Him. We might be saying, “We love Jesus, but we reject the working of the Spirit whose job is to produce good deeds in our lives”.
You may say that you hate false religion, but to say that you hate religion and claim that Christianity is not a religion is a huge error. Christianity is a religion. It is the only true religion. It is the religion Christ came to establish. It is the only religion in which the outward expressions are completely connected to the One who came to establish it. It is the only religion in which the founder Himself will indwell the worshiper and do the deeds Himself as we yield in both faith and obedience. This is what the entire letter of James, the brother of Jesus, is all about. There is a true religion—Christianity. And this true religion is faith in Christ expressed in good works.
So why do people say that Christianity is not a religion? Could it be that they are afraid of the non-believing world ? Are they trying to soft-sell the gospel? Are they afraid of the persecution that comes when we call ourselves a religious people? Christian, Christianity is all about religious affections and religious expression towards a holy God, the only God.
Take a look at the following quotes from Johnathan Edwards’ book Religious Affections. He wrote this book even before the argument of “relationship with Jesus vs. religion” existed.
“The holy scriptures do everywhere place religion very much in the affection; such as fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal.” (20)
“From a vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God will necessarily arise other religious affections; hence will arise an intense hatred and abhorrence of sin, and a dread of God’s displeasure, gratitude to God for his grief when He is absent, and a joyful hope when a future enjoyment of God is expected and fervent zeal for the glory of God.” (23)
“For although to true religion there must indeed be something else besides affection, yet true religion consists so much in the affections that there can be no true religion without them.” (30)
“And let it be considered, that they who have but little religious affection have certainly but little religion. And they who condemn others for their religious affections, and have none themselves, have no religion. These are false affections, and there are true. A man’s having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion; but if he has no affection, it proves that he has no true religion.” (31)
Johnathan Edwards believed that there is a huge connection between our affections for God and outward expression of such affection. And he called this connection true religion in the same way that James did. If this is true, then to say that we love Jesus and hate religion is as ridiculous as to say we love food but we hate eating.
Think about these things. I am not here to judge your heart. I am not even going to try to tell you that I know what you mean when you say that you hate religion. I am not going to go down the road to justify the statement of “what I mean by religion is man’s attempt to get to God”. I know well that for some of you this is what the statement means. Even so, I want to urge you to be cautious when making such statements publicly. They are not only faulted, but dangerous to the deceiving heart who is okay with wearing Jesus as an accessory without living a life of abandonment to Christ and the control of the the Holy Spirit.