Have you ever cringed when some one described you as ‘religious?’
I have. More than once.
I am sure that when some one calls me ‘religious’ they are most likely acknowledging my mission life. I have left family, home, and country to serve Christ. They may consider this commitment as a truly ‘religious’ one.
For me, the image I have of a ‘religious person’ is not positive.
This is too bad.
When James used the word religious in his exhortation to the church that had been scattered across Asia due to persecution, threshkos, the Greek transliterated word for religious described this people as those that feared and worshiped God.
To put it simply: A religious person worshiped and feared His God.
Yet, even in James’ day, the religious got it wrong. Their actions and words in the name of their religion failed to honor their God and gave others a false impression of what it really meant to be a Christ follower. Their religious behavior missed the mark.
James both condemned them and attempted to redirect them, when he said:
Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. The Message, James 1:26-27
And this is exactly why I cringe whenever anyone calls me religious. They may consider the term, ‘religious’ to be a compliment. Yet, over time, the word has become incredibly negative to me and to others.
And that’s the problem.
The religious are a corrupted and polluted people.
A people group that was meant to fear and worship God and bring Him honor and glory in word and deed became self-centered, fearful, judgmental and exclusive. Instead of following the example of Christ in their walk and in their talk, they strayed upon a selfish path and lost their way.
They condemned the poor.
They ignored the widow.
They neglected the orphan.
They judged the lost and hurting.
They grew comfortable and at ease living in a defiled world.
And because of these moral failures, left unchecked and unanswered, their religion would became devoid of purpose or meaning – and heart.
And this is exactly why I cringe.
If some one calls me ‘religious,’ I immediately feel that I have been identified with a group of people who have no impact for Christ or heart for the world.
Instead of seeing Christ in my behavior, they recognize corruption.
Instead of feeling Christ’s love and acceptance with my touch, they feel rejection.
Instead of hearing Christ in my words, they perceive judgment and condemnation.
Instead of savoring Christ and His goodness, they taste bitterness.
Instead of enjoying the sweet fragrance of Christ, they detect the odor of discontentment.
Who would ever want to be called ‘religious,’ if these are the images that come to mind?
And yet, I am certain, that one day in the future, some one will label me ‘religious’ again.
So, I need to reframe this word in my mind. As James wrote, threshkos, the Greek transliterated word for religious, means to fear and to worship God. Okay, I can live with that. Because I do fear God and I do strive to worship Him – every single day.
James goes even further with his definition of the religious though, those that I choose to call Christ-followers. James exhorts the truly religious to remember and care for the people in distress who are in their midst.
There are many.
We live in a distressed and discouraging world.
Who can we share the love, peace, joy, kindness, and acceptance of Christ with – even today?
Because it counts in terms of how we are seen, heard, felt, tasted, and smelled by those who live near us, interact with us, and work with us. I do not want fear, hurt, and misunderstanding to prevent me from experiencing the abundant joy and freedom that a life in Christ offers me. I don’t want to be discounted as just another ‘religious’ person filled with hot air who fails to share the love and compassion of Christ because I was so full of myself.
Sadly, in truth, there are too many of us already.
The time is now to change the perception others have of the ‘religious.’ It starts with me. And yes, it can start with you, too! We can live out the words of James:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 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. New International Version, James 1:26-27
In all honesty, I don’t want to cringe anymore. Do you?
Image retrieved from http://northgateproductions.com/