Pure Religion

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22 (NIV)

I remember despising the Christian religion. I thought myself a Christian, but I wanted nothing to do with religion. As a child, I found comfort in the written words of Jesus and in speaking to Him in prayer. This comfort was real and it made a real impact in my life. It should be of no surprise that I was confused and angry when I failed to find any such comfort with the people who openly proclaimed to be Christ-like. I’ll come back to this later.

My little brother, Ray, decided a long time ago that he wanted a physically fit body. Who doesn’t? Many of us want to have the six pack abs, the big chest, or even to just be able to run around the block without passing out. In fact, that billions of dollars are spent every year by Americans who want fitness magazines, memberships to fitness clubs, access to fitness TV, and even a home gym. I admit, I have purchased something from every one of those categories and I still get winded running across the house.

Not Ray though. Ray accepted the obvious, that reading about fitness, joining a fitness club, and even having a personal trainer were an absolute waste of time if he didn’t actually engage in what he learned. Ray hit the gym regularly, Ray ran regularly, Ray changed his diet, Ray listened to those who were successful, and Ray practiced what he was taught. Ray not only has those abs that everyone dreams about, but I swear, even his muscles have muscles.

We seem to be drawn to preparing to do great things, but we often fail at actually engaging in what we proclaim. For the Christian, it can be tempting to think that all we need in order to be Christ-like is to join a church, read religious pamphlets, give our money regularly, watch Christian TV, listen to Christian radio, wear the WWJD bracelet, get a Bible app, pray to God, and even read the Bible. If this is all that we do as Christians, then we will be no more like Jesus than I am like Ray. We are delusional if we think otherwise—we deceive ourselves.

I am good about exercise, until it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. How many Christians are good with God’s commands, until they are uncomfortable or inconvenient?

Jesus says:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28 NIV)

Do you love your enemy? If not, you disobey Christ. Do you do good to those who hate you? If not, you disobey Christ. Do you bless those who curse you? If not, you disobey Christ. Do you pray for those who mistreat you? If not, you disobey Christ.

I had plenty of excuses for not getting into shape. The truth is, Ray had the same excuses. The difference is that Ray rose above them for the sake of something greater. That is what we need to do as Christians. We need to accept that our pride, laziness, fears, peer-pressure, or whatever cannot be allowed to prevent us from obedience to God.

James also writes:

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 (NIV)