It’s relationship, not a religion.
I believe in God, but I don’t consider myself religious.
So, what is religion? We’ve heard – maybe even uttered – statements like the ones above, but what do they mean? What is this religion from which we seem to run? Can you have a relationship with Jesus without religion?
The dictionary defines religion as “the service and worship of God.” That changes the meaning of those phrases that have become so common in our culture. People surely don’t mean to say they don’t worship, and don’t serve, the very God with whom they claim a relationship.
So, in today’s world, in today’s church, what is true religion – what does it mean to truly worship and serve God?
The book of James is viewed as the practical book in the New Testament – sort of the Proverbs of the New Testament. James 1:27 defines religion pretty clearly: 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.
You’ve no doubt heard and read many sermons on the importance of keeping oneself unstained. It’s important, or James wouldn’t have mentioned it. True, undefiled religion requires us to live clean, but also to care for others – specifically widows and orphans. It is the combination of both clean living and care that is the manifestation of a real relationship with Christ, of true service and worship of God.
In society today, the church’s definition of widows and orphans should include those whose husbands and fathers are not necessarily deceased, but absent.
In some cases, we are faced with orphaned or abandoned children in need of adoption. And that should resonate with us. If we’re believers in Christ, we’re adopted. Ephesians 1:5 reminds us that it is our adoption into the family of God that allows us to have a relationship with God, that enables us to live out the definition of true religion. And that’s true because of the heart of God, not because of anything we have or do.
We also see prominent examples of adoption in the Bible: Moses, who faced a death sentence for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, was adopted into the family of the King and lived to become a great prophet of God. Esther was adopted and because of that was in the right place at the right time to preserve the nation of Israel. Even Jesus, the Son of God, was raised by Joseph as his own. The impact of that can’t be measured. Adoption, the boldest way to care for the fatherless, transforms lives – and not only the lives of those who are adopted, but the countless others whose lives are improved thanks to the ripple effect of that adoption. Even within our RPC family, and in our Pastor’s own testimony, we see the impact of adoption and foster care. We see the transformational power it holds.
There are also many who can be identified as widows and orphans who benefit tremendously from actions other than adoption. A quick read of Matthew 25:34-40 reveals this truth.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
What are we doing with our religion today? Are we serving and worshiping God? How do we serve the God of the universe, who needs nothing? Matthew 25:40 is clear, by serving the least of these, we serve our almighty God.
It’s time to ask ourselves a few questions. Who are the children God has put in my life? Who has God placed in my path for whom I can make a difference? What is the call God is placing on my life to make a difference for someone who cannot do it on his own, someone who is the least of these? How am I being used by God in my religion – my service and worship of God? In the answers to these questions, we find our true religion.