Last Saturday, the Wilson Daily Times ran an article by me with the title, “Do You Have Real Religion?” The text of that article is listed below.
A well meaning church member was going door-to- door in his neighborhood, trying to talk to people about the Lord. One lady came to the door, and he said, “Ma’am, would you like to dedicate your life to God?” She said, “Goodness no, I am miserable enough with the religion I’ve got. Please don’t ask me to get any more.”
That lady, like a lot of people, had a religion that was superficial, but not supernatural. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, said, “I like my religion the way I like my tea–I like it hot.” There certainly is a difference between real religion, which is supernatural, and false religion, which is superficial.
Religion can be both bad and good. Wars have been fought, families have been split, people have been murdered, all in the name of religion.
The word “religion” literally means “the outward appearance of a religious ritual.”
James 1:26-27 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
James makes a startling statement. Real religion is found not so much inside the church, as it is outside the church. Real religion is not just praying to God in church on Sunday, it is living for God in the world on Monday. Real religion is the out-working of an in-working God. In these two verses, James gives us three marks of real religion.
First of all, he mentions a Controlled Conversation. He describes a person who is religious in his head, but not in his heart. Did you know that you can go to church, teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, put money in the plate, sing hymns, and take the Lord’s Supper, and still not have real religion? The test of your religion is not how you look, but how you live. Here in this verse the test is the tongue. That’s right. More than your tithe or your testimony, your tongue tells the truth about your religion.
The second mark of real religion is a Compassionate Concern. Real religion not only can be found in a closed mouth, but it can be found in an open heart. Real religion gives you a heart for the things that God has a heart for. Let me hasten to add at this point that James is not advocating a social gospel. Visiting orphans and widows feeding the hungry and poor, in and of itself, will not take a person to heaven, nor does it constitute real religion. You can be concerned for others, and not be religious. But you cannot be truly religious and not be concerned for others. Caring for others does not constitute religion, but it is the result of religion.
The third mark of real religion is a Consecrated Conduct. The word unspotted comes from a Greek word that gives us our English word “spill.” It literally means “not spilled upon.” In other words, real religion will keep you unspoiled, unstained, unspotted from the world. It may sound old fashioned and out-of-date, but there are some beverages Christians shouldn’t drink; some movies Christians shouldn’t see; some language Christians shouldn’t use; some places Christians shouldn’t go; some music Christians shouldn’t hear; and some things Christians shouldn’t do.
This world is not sick and tired of religion. It is sick and tired of religion that is not real.