In John’s gospel we are shown over and over again, a very important truth…
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (1:4)
“I am the bread of life.” (6:35)
‘”Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (7:38)
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (10:10)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (14:6)
JESUS is LIFE.
That’s big for us.
In a recent post, I asked some questions.
What if we’re coming at this all wrong. What if both sides are missing the point? What if Jesus did not come to abolish religion OR to establish true religion?
Jesus is life. Jesus brought life. And what if, in bringing life, He made religion null and void?
When these types of questions come up, we always turn here:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 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. (James 1:26-27 ESV)
It’s a very good place to start, as it is very obviously and specifically related to the topic. The problem is, what is described in James 1 isn’t what we are usually talking about when we talk about religion.
I looked around and “religion” is defined differently in different dictionaries, but it usually has something to do with a system of beliefs and practices shared by a group of people.
I also looked at the Greek in James 1. The word in verse 27 that we translate as “religion” is in reference to external religious worship, usually consisting of ceremonies. What James tells us is that the purest form of external religious worship in God’s eyes is, not the ceremonies, but the helping and caring for the broken and weary, and remaining unblemished by the world.
When I stop and dwell on that, I see LIFE. First let’s look at the actions described – visiting orphans and widows in their affliction. That is life on life… one person, giving and sharing life with another. Second is keeping oneself unstained from the world. That can only truly happen when we are filled and flowing with the life of Christ. There’s no amount of striving or devotion, no matter how religious, that can make a person unstained. ONLY the life of Christ can do that! It reminds me of those verses in John and I think it would also be accurate to say that pure and undefiled religion is being a heart that flows rivers of living water!
When we talk about religion today, we are usually talking more about the dictionary definition… or just being DEVOTED to our Christian belief system… and I think that when we do that, we are missing the point of the LIFE we have in Christ.
Our “external religious worship” should be from an outflow of Christ in us, and us in Christ. It shouldn’t be because of a system or a tradition or a religion. It should come from HIS BEING, that we are a part of.
He told us himself that He came so that we may have LIFE, and Jesus is Life. When we talk about or live out a religion that is not focused on LIFE, we are missing HIM. It’s, sadly, a trap that is very easy to fall into and thus one that we must be very aware of.