In recent years religion has become the whipping boy of society. The left says that organized religion is the root of all evil. The right considers religion a bad word insisting that “being a Christian is all about a relationship and not about religion.” Some Christians even go so far as to pray against the “spirit of religion.”
The Bible disagrees with both of these views.
“If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn’t bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is worthless.
Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:26-27)
God has given us a model for what true religion is and yet we de-emphasize it to the point of near extinction. This can allow us to avoid those things that religious people must do. Religion will not get us to heaven but it should govern our earthly actions.
The Biblically religious man must control his tongue. We live in a world spoken into existence and we must be able to control language in order to change the world. Controlling the tongue is not just keeping one’s foot away from one’s mouth. It means that we must learn how to wield the tongue for the kingdom and not against it. If the tongue, like a rudder, can direct a large ship, we must plot a good course for our words or suffer the consequences.
We also must learn to visit and care for widows and orphans. The church in America does this less than almost any other nation. We vote in leaders who take our money away and then give it to widows and orphans in the name of the government, not in the name of Jesus, who they most desperately need. You see, we can feed someone straight into hell. Only Christ can truly save. Virtue cannot exist in the absence of free will.
Good works can be either a bushel hiding the light of the Gospel or a mirror reflecting it far into the distance. The choice comes in how we wield the tongue. When we allow others to visit widows and orphans we silence our tongue and darken our light.
In past when a king became angry he would beat his whipping buy until he felt better. The king that is, the whipping boy rarely felt better after a visit with the king. This abuse didn’t solve any problems, but only made them feel more distant.
As we beat religion we alleviate the felt need of direct service to widows and orphans. We don’t feel that we need to care for our needy because the government does it for us by taking 10-15% of our paycheck before we ever get to see it and before we pay the income tax.
Finally, religious people must keep themselves unspotted from the world. I contend that this means there are things the world does from which we should abstain. This does not just include avoiding sin but also avoiding folly such as debt and short term romantic relationships. We should not walk as fools but as wise.
Remaining unspotted does not mean we should avoid interaction with the world. We must go into the world in order to reach it. But, we must not sprinkle the holy water of evangelism on the dung pile of sin in order to justify our disobedience.
Jesus never went into a prostitute in order to reach her with the Gospel. In that same way we should not err in order to do good. Going to an inappropriate movie just to spend time with a lost friend is not the path of righteousness. The end is only as just as the means to achieve it.
We must stop beating the whipping boy of religion. Instead of praying against the “spirit of religion” we should ask God to raise up religious people once again. We must live in such away so that the definition cannot become tainted with dead works and empty rituals that find no precedent in the scriptures.
As we live religious lives by wisely wielding the tongue, helping widows and orphans and staying unspotted from the world we will see the world around us change for the better.