James Study 4: True or false religion?
Read James 1:19-27
As we move on in this chapter, we want to look at what religion is and whether we have true or false religion. We can be a “born-again” Christian and still have false religion. That may immediately make us feel insecure, but it does us no harm to look into the perfect law of liberty (Psalm 19:7) and see the truth for ourselves. We want our relationship with our heavenly Father to be pure and holy and we want to grow in grace and the knowledge of His word. (Ephesians 1:7-8)
Cults, false beliefs and liberal beliefs are all an alternative to true religion. James wants to show us ways to prove whether our religion is true or false.
Let’s first deal with the word “religion”. Religion is often used in the sense of different human ways of attempting to restore ourselves to God. Christianity is about God’s offer of restoring human beings individually to Himself through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross at Calvary and His subsequent resurrection. It is about releasing those who accept this offer to be what God always planned for them to be: completely at one and in fellowship with Himself; worshipping Him and holding nothing or no one else before Him. (Exodus 20:3) “Religion”, in the sense used in James 1:27, is from the Greek word “threskeia” and appears to refer especially to the outward observance of worship. James states that there is both “good religion” and “bad religion”. He defines “good religion” like this: “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” So the question that you and I need to ask ourselves is this: “What is our motive in adhering to religion?”
We need to look here for the characteristics of a true believer and to put our own traditional thinking behind us. We need to see who God looks on as a true believer. We will be surprised to find that many of the things that we believe are so important do not even merit a mention when God is looking for a true believer.
The first mark of true Christianity is something that we have already covered in module two (“Trials and Tribulations”). The true believer is enabled to rejoice in “trials” (problems or difficulties). Many cults have people laying down their lives for their beliefs, so we have to look at the quality of life that shows the difference between the true Christian and any false religion.
The second mark that James points out is the complete, “exchanged” person, who has died to self and has been resurrected with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through that person, so that there is a complete change of focus, behaviour and priorities. (James 1:19-21)
The third mark is seen in those who keep a tight rein on their tongues (James 1:26) as a sure sign of people who have totally surrendered their bodies to the living God. They are like Jesus Himself, who spoke so few words and only got those which came from His Father. Such people show others how important their opinions are and build others up. If we cannot control our tongues, we may think that we are in a right relationship with God, but we are at risk of being open to deception. (Matthew 12:33-37; James 1:26) We deceive ourselves if we listen to God’s word but don’t follow it and don’t keep control of our tongues. (James 1:22,26)
The fourth mark of true Christianity is looking to see what the word of God says and then doing it. (James 1:22) It is not enough to know about God. We have to know and believe (trust in, cling to and rely on) Him. We have to allow the Holy Spirit the free use of our bodies, minds and emotions to “live God’s word” – that is, do what it says.
If we do it in our own strength, it is just “good works” and we will burn ourselves out. We tend only to do the things that we like to do, but God’s word has amazing things for us to do: forgive our enemies; give and not expect any return; praise in the midst of difficulties and lots more. So, we need to be wise and look in the mirror of His word, doing what it says and making any changes required. Then, any “good works” we do will be as a result of God working through us.
The fifth mark that separates true and false religion is described in this way: “religion that is 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) This is how God describes the religion that He accepts. This has got to be our goal, rather than the great collection of rules and regulations that have been set up by many churches.
The sixth mark of true Christianity that we have to look at is love. Only if we truly know the amazing love of God for us seen at the cross, are we able to love Him and share Him with others. How God loves us is described in 1 Corinthians 13. As we look at this love, we have to receive the truth of it. So, in true Christianity, we are to love, accept and forgive one another, just as God in Christ has loved, accepted and forgiven us. We are to treat other people with the same measure of love that we think we are receiving from God, even if our thoughts about God’s love are wrong. Often, we find so little love because of a lack of real understanding of God’s own love. (John 13:34; Romans 15:7; Ephesians 4:32)
False religion is bondage to a set of rules and regulations that demand an impossible standard and where there is no room for grace. Such rules can appear easier because they allow the “flesh” (our minds and emotions) a certain amount of freedom, but they tend to condemn anyone else’s efforts and have no patience with others’ short-comings. False religion adds more and more unreasonable rules, just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. If you remember, Jesus condemned them at every opportunity. (Mark 7:6-8) False religion causes bondage to so many regulations. There is no freedom to love with God’s love. We feel that all our efforts will never be good enough; we will never make the grade. This can be so disheartening as the constant striving can cause burn-out. Jesus said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light. (Matthew 11:30)
True Christianity is not a self-improvement program nor a reformation programme. It is a resurrection: a whole, complete new life. It is expressed in terms of a total exchange of identity. We choose to totally die or surrender our lives, placing them in His hands, to do with as He pleases. The most reasonable and logical thing we can do is to offer ourselves without reservation to a God who loves us beyond comprehension. He will take charge of our lives in His perfect wisdom and control. We then have to allow God to begin to renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) with His teaching, to replace the error of natural thinking. We lay down all our personal rights to comfort, happiness or a “fair deal” in this life, having our own way, holding some position in Christian work and many other things. We cannot both hold onto rights and keep a thankful spirit. Otherwise, when we have problems, we are plagued with questions such as: “Why me?” – “Has God rejected me?” – “Why bother being a Christian?”
We do not want to practise a religion. We want to know Jesus in a real relationship. To the hungry ones, to the humble ones, God will always respond by leading us into true freedom. (Matthew 7:7; Ephesians 3:20)
According to Rick Joyner in “The Final Quest“:
“A great civil war now looms before the church. The main issue will be slavery versus freedom. The secondary issue, which will be the primary issue for some, will be money. Just like the American civil war looked at times as if it was going to destroy the entire nation, what is coming upon the church will at times appear as if it will be the end of the church. However, just as the American nation survived, but went on to become the most powerful nation in the earth, the same is going to happen to the church. The church will not be destroyed, but the institutions and doctrines that have kept men in spiritual slavery will be. The work of liberation and the exaltation of the church will be a work that is accomplished much quicker than we may think is humanly possible. However, we are not talking about human possibilities.
At this time all people involved in false, liberal, religion will be fighting with those in true religion and, as they watch them grow in grace and the knowledge of God, they will only be more deceived, believing that these on-fire Christians are just “angels of light” and so they are justified in ostracising them. God will perform a miracle of great change in every available person who is willing to be changed and a mighty army of united believers will come out of this civil war”.
“We certainly have a very exciting future as we walk in humility, so that the world can see the large chasm of difference between true and false religion. All the fences that divide Christians will be removed as revival rises in the nation like a snow storm, where people walk on the tops of the snow across the fences. The fences are all buried under the beautiful blanket of snow. So shall it be in revival as the nation is blanketed in His love and all our petty differences are buried. We accept and receive our brothers and sisters in Christ and, as the world sees the way we love one another, they acknowledge that Jesus is the One True God.”
The Real Church – Home Challenges 4
Read the notes “True or false religion”
1. Which action in James 1:19 do you feel most challenged about? What are you going to do?
2. What do you think the Bible is saying is true Christianity? Give verses to back up your opinion.
3. How can we deceive ourselves – according to this passage?
4. What do you find most challenging in the notes and verses?
Read James Chapter 2:1-13.
5. According to James 2:1, what must we avoid as Christians?
6. Do you find it easy to treat people equally? Why?
7. What example does James give?
8. Have you seen this happen? Describe the situation. How would Jesus have handled it?
9. Who has God chosen? What has He promised them? James 2:5
10. If you use discrimination, what does God say about it?
11. What is the “royal law”?
12. Can anyone manage to not be a law breaker? How? Galatians 3:10-14
13. Is the law freedom or bondage? Why? James 2:12
14. What is the new kind of law? How do we show this law?
15. “Mercy triumphs over judgement!” (James 2:13) What will be the effect on us if we are not merciful?
16. Sum up what this passage means to you.