"Religion" is a scary word for many people. It sounds like rituals, hypocrisy, meditation, and boredom. It implies responsibility, obligation, and abandoning pleasure. It sounds like commitment. And to a very uncommitted, unfaithful world... that doesn't sound appealing.
It reminds people of the terrible things that were done in the name of [insert religious deity here]. It brings thoughts of judgmental, self-righteous people who looked only after themselves, not bothering to glance down at their peers.
Religion has become a synonym for two-facedness. Fraud. Scams.
We've all done a part in turning religion into a monster. We've used our churches to gain money for selfish interests. We've put down other believers. We've focused all the attention and the spotlights on ourselves, and hungered after human praise. We've turned the sanctuary from a place of worship and holiness to a place of pride.
The very word religion turns off so many people. They don't want to hear about duties and responsibilities that are only applicable when necessary. They don't want to be a part of annoying preachers who don't put their own words into practice. They weren't accepted or loved at churches, so they decide that if religion hates sinners, they don't want to be a part of it.
Why would God instill such a horribly hypocritical system? Why would He demand consistent two-facedness, and gossip? Lying and cheating... why is that included in His religion?
It wasn't always like this.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself
from being polluted by the world.
Wow. Can you imagine what it would be like if the word 'religion' was actually a beautiful word? What if the mere mentioning of religion reminded orphans of the time they were given more food and clothing? What if it reminded the widows of the love and compassion they had been shown? What if it was a positive, attractive word?
It is our job to turn religion back into something beautiful. Something honest, trustworthy, and dedicated. It's hard. Where can we start, though? James 1:27 says just three things that encompass so much, but that is what God sees as pure and faultless RELIGION. The verse that comes right before will define where I struggle, as do so many other Christians.
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep
a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves,
and their religion is worthless.
Worthless. All the times I've gossiped, lied, put-down, passed judgment, or called someone an unkind name... that was me betraying religion. That was me turning pure, faultless religion into a phony hobby.
Though it may not seem like it, the world is watching us. It is watching us carefully, because of the huge claims we have made. We call ourselves children of God. It didn't sit well with the Pharisees, and it doesn't sit well with unbelievers today. We speak of pretty big things for ourselves... everlasting life is just one example. With the world hearing of our high standards, what kind of image are we giving God when we aren't true to what we say we believe?
2 Corinthians 2:15~
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ
among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
An ambassador for a country does His best to portray his homeland honestly and attractively. He knows he is on a mission of the utmost importance. He understands his place. It's about time we did the same.
Until Christ returns, we have His Holy Spirit's power. We have the gift of grace. And those gifts were not given lightly. They came at a huge price. An innocent execution. We wear the badge of Christ's death now... do our words and actions give Him justice?
To be honest, they never have and they never will. But to a fallen, broken, needy world... pure and genuine religion is just what is needed.