Read James 1:19-27

As we move on in this chapter, we are going to look at religion: what it 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" and see the truth for ourselves. (Psalm 19:7) 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 seeks 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 to describe different human attempts to find, discover or define "God". Christianity reveals to us God's offer to restore the broken relationships between human beings and Himself, through the sacrificial death of Jesus - His Son - and Jesus' subsequent resurrection. It is about setting free 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)

The word "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 we need to ask ourselves is this: "What is our motive in followng a religion?" We need to look here for the characteristics of a true believer and, possibly, to put our own traditional thinking behind us. We need to see who God looks on as a true believer. We may 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 features of a true Christian

The first mark of true Christianity is something that we have already covered in study two ("Trials and Tribulations"). True believers are 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 true Christians and any false religions.

The second mark that James points out is complete, "exchanged" people. These are people who have died to self and been resurrected with Christ - by the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through them, 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 few words and then only 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 live in our own strength, whatever we do simply amounts to "good works" and we are likely to burn ourselves out when we reach the end of our resources. We tend only to do the things that we like to do, but God's word sets out amazing things for us to do, such as: forgiving our enemies; giving and not expecting any return; praising in the midst of difficulties and much more. 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 collections 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 in Christ's death, are we able to love Him and share Him with others. How God loves us is described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. 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

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 is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

True Christianity

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 with His teaching, to replace the error of natural thinking. (Romans 12:1-2) We must lay down all our personal rights to comfort, happiness or a "fair deal" in this life; to having our own way, holding some position in Christian work and - perhaps - many other things. We cannot, at one and the same time, hold on to our 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."

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