“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, ESV)
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word religion? Perhaps you are among those unhappy with the term. You cringe at the word and insist that “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship.”
That sentiment sits well with many of us who came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ after years of involvement in institutionalized religion. We knew of Jesus but we didn’t know Him. We could well relate to our Lord’s indictment against honoring Him with our lips while our hearts were far from Him.
Religion, however, can be seen as simply the practice of a religious system. It’s not good or bad, just descriptive of how a Christian or a Jew or Muslim exercises the tenets and rituals associated with their belief system. The apostle Paul testified before King Agrippa to his religious practice: “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:4–5). As a Pharisee, Paul practiced his religion differently than a Sadducee or a Samaritan.
For James, religion speaks of alignment with a belief system and the outworking of it. If we claim to be Christian, what does that look like in our lives? In James’s thinking relationship shows up in religion. Our relationship with Jesus Christ affects our identity, allegiance, priorities, and practices. Such religion involves more than rituals; it reaches to the whole of life.
Religion flows from relationship with our Lord Jesus, separating us to Him, holy and called to be holy.
“Lord Jesus, grant that my practice of religion not be an end in itself but a means to glorify and enjoy You.”