Actually, I want to be religious … very, very religious

People like to proclaim they aren’t religious. Like these folks:

I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious. This person might like the idea of being spiritual but they don’t want the trappings of religion, all those rules and having to subscribe to a set of beliefs. Unmitigated spirituality is what they crave. What that means is tough to define but they know they want it to be free of religion, whatever religion itself is.

I’m not religious, I just try to be a good person. Good luck with that. Not the part about not being religious; that’s a subjective matter that just about everyone else will let you measure your own success on. When it comes to trying to be good, though, the whole world is ready and oh-so-willing to judge your success. There aren’t many people who’ll measure up to that judgment.

Person 3: Christianity’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. These folks usually mean that salvation is not found through religion, but through Jesus himself. I agree. But the Bible never says there is no religion for those who are in a right relationship with Christ. It says quite the opposite, in fact:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27.)

Religion that is pure and faultless? Yes there is such a thing, and it is part of being a Christian. It actually sounds pretty good to me, too. In this religion we get to help people who need help (like widows and orphans, but I imagine those are merely exemplars for James’ purposes), and we get to stay away from the things that don’t help at all (things that get in the way of our relationship with our heavenly Father).

The great part about religion in Christ is that we don’t do it in order to earn God’s favor, but we get to do it now that God has already given us his favor because of what Jesus has done for us.

So let me ask you: how do you feel now about being religious?

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28 Responses to Actually, I want to be religious … very, very religious

  1. Ruth says:

    Gimme that old time religion, it’s good enough for me! So long as its 2000 years old and Christ-centred. 🙂

  2. “religion”, in the Latin root, aims more towards a “pattern of behavior”. There is no Hebrew word for it… best case is a word that means more close to “law”.. which, again, is pattern of behavior.

    if you think about it, we talk about, sometimes, how someone “religiously” gets a Starbucks coffee every day… It is a cultural, social pattern of behavior that shapes and patterns life in general. A person who does that “religious” Starbucks run would be out of sorts if they missed a day… and, socially, people would notice something amiss if that person missed it.

    This does not preclude the “relationship”… but even a relationship has a religion… I kiss my wife, religiously, before I leave for work in the mornings… why? Because I’m in relationship with her. It’s when religion REPLACES relationship (kissing my wife simply because it’s what I do, not out of love) that religion becomes a problem.

    • Tim says:

      The religion (the practice) attendant to relationship is inescapable, right Robert? We can’t help but have things we do with those we relate to. In Christ, it’s worshiping God in heaven and serving the people he’s put in our lives, and it’s all because of our relationship with him.

      • Precisely… if all you have is faith that Jesus is the King of Kings… well, to quote one of those really-old-smart-guys… “Even the demons believe that… and tremble”

  3. Marsha says:

    Interesting topic! My husband, a devout Christian who grew up listening to Bob Thieme, always says he is not religious. I just asked him to explain this. He said that he was taught that the institutional church always adds to salvation requirements, ie Sure, we are saved by grace and not works but you really need to tithe, attend regularly, and serve on at least one committee. So for him, that statement means that he is a follower of Christ who is saved by grace and not a follower of a church.

    • I wonder if the problem is that we get too caught up in that dichotomy of “saved by grace” and “saved by works”. Yes, we are saved by grace… but our salvation is nothing if fruit is not produced… what does “fruit” look like is then the question… is it being part of the institutional church? my answer: it depends upon what your “institutional” church considers to be stuff to be done… Maintaining the institution… not so much…. Participating in the community and the mission of that community, perhaps.

    • Tim says:

      Your husband sounds like he agrees with what James wrote in the passage I quote above, and also where he says that faith without works is dead (the same point I think Robert is making in his reply to your comment). Religious practices for purpose of pleasing God or earning salvation is empty but what we do in our relationship with God is another type of religion, the type James says is pure and faultless and acceptable to God..

  4. EricaM says:

    I can see where people are coming from when they use this phrase, since it usually is a backlash against excessive legality. But they forget that God does give us some rules to follow, but we aren’t to follow them (as Robert Martin up there points out) just because we “have to”.

    Here’s a good example: At my old church, people rarely contributed to it, leaving any duties and any aid up to a handful of people that pretty much ran everything. Any time the priest mentioned that God asks us to help the Church, not just in money but in time and skills, I had to listen to people complaining at coffee hour about how the priest was “trying to make poor old people give money they didn’t have”, overlooking the entire point that was being made. It was easier to ignore what God asks of us and simply to say “I was baptized Orthodox, so I must be saved”. On the other hand, you had to commit to giving a certain amount every year, and you had personalized envelopes and if you couldn’t give what you said you would, you had to explain why. It wasn’t a slight against the parishioners; our church was in financial trouble; but I do believe that practice contributed to the pigheadedness there.

    At the church we’re attending now, you never hear a thing about any of this, yet we can still afford to go on camping trips and rent recreation halls for celebrations. There is no mention of how much any one person or family gives, yet we always have enough. It is not that religious duties are ignored, or done simply because they’re “duties”; people genuinely like performing them. (And not just the money-for some, it’s as simple as bringing a dish every Sunday to help feed people afterward.) This idea extends to everything we do as Christians; but the tithing issue has come up so often that it was the first thing that popped in my mind.

    • Tim says:

      I like how you say that this extends to all we do. That sounds like what James was writing about too, that our relationship with God should guide our daily practices in all we do.

  5. Larus Press says:

    Love the way you’ve split the hair over the concept of religion. It’s a word that evokes legalism which is so damaging, but as you’ve described it, it’s simply living out commitment to God and to Christ in a way that demonstrates integrity and purpose. Thanks, Tim.

  6. Jeannie says:

    This is another example of how a perfectly good word gets distorted and then rejected because the wrong interpretation isn’t palatable! Are there other usages of “religion” in the Bible that are the same word James uses? I know he refers to it a couple of times in his book.

    • Tim says:

      The Greek word is apparently threskeia, and James uses it twice in quick succession (1:26 and 1:27). It is also used once by Paul in Colossians where it is translated into English as “worship”. The related word threskeias is in Acts 26:5 and is translated as “religion” in English.

    • Greg Hahn says:

      Yes Jeannie. It occurs 4 times: Acts 26:5 in reference to the Jewish religion, Col 2:18 in reference to worship of angels, and James 1:26 and 27.

  7. Beth Caplin says:

    “I’m not religious, I just try to be a good person.” <– This group irritates me the most. I understand the people who are fed up with religious institutions, who are tired of dogmas being shoved down their throats, but this "good person" ideal is just…ugh. I always want to ask, "By what standard are you considered 'good'?" This is a very Christian-y question, one C.S. Lewis tackled more intelligently than I am, but it makes sense on a practical level as well. I'm sure Adolf Hitler thought he was a great person, too. So where does one draw the line?

    Me, I'm in the camp that says "There are no 'good people,' only sinners *trying* to be good, and religion is what exposes just how screwed up we actually are." Which is the whole point, isn't it? "Religion" shows us our flaws, so we see how much we need Jesus?

  8. Beth Caplin says:

    And what’s really funny are people who seem shocked that I don’t consider myself a “good person” (seriously, someone show me a single concrete definition of what that means). Hell no, I am not a good person, but I do a damn good job of making people assume I am 🙂

  9. Ruth says:

    Well Tim, your blog is certainly good, very good in fact, balanced and considered, it has helped me in my ‘walk with the Lord’. Old fashioned term again, but it reminds me of lovely days walking with my beloved Grandpa when I was a tiny girl. My ‘old time religion’ quote just had to happen, as it bounced into my head like a ping-pong ball and wouldn’t settle, melody, and accent and all!
    I think we need to ponder all the teachings on religion, faith, works, belief, action, repentance etc, shake well, and pray for a Christ- centred life…it’s good enough for me!
    See, it won’t stop ping-ponging!
    That poor split hare, very witty, and such an expression on his poor face…..
    I look forward to reading your blog, and contributing my eccentric opinions, very kind of you not to ban me. 🙂

  10. Aimee Byrd says:

    Another one: “God wants you to have a personal relationship with him.” I love how Michael Horton puts it, something like: Everyone already has a personal relationship with God. The question is whether it is one of grace or wrath. We are all as created beings in a covenant with our Creator.

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