Worthless Religion

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (James 1:26 ESV).

In last week’s article, Resolving Conflicts and Overcoming Strife – Part 2, we mentioned that one of the biggest conflicts we see happening in the church is when a pastor or someone you respect speaks something false about you. The lies could cripple your faith, enslave you, cause you to argue with men, hurt and wound your heart, or even cause you to fall away from the faith. But praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ who left us a great example of what to do when a lie is spoken. We are to go into the Bible and find and believe what God says about the matter, rebuke Satan, and say “It is written…” (Acts 17:11; Matthew 4:3-10; 16:21-23; Luke 4:3-13).

The Lord Jesus Christ boldly declared and made it very clear that He is the ONLY Way, Truth, and Life, and NO ONE can enter heaven or come to God the Father, except through Him (John 14:6). Furthermore, even for Christians, this path to everlasting life (heaven) is narrow and only a few find it), while the path to eternal destruction (hell) is wide and many enter through it (Matthew 7:13-14). The Lord repeated the same warning in other places, indicating that even though many accept the invitation to Him, only a few remain faithful to the end and are eventually chosen (Matthew 22:14; Luke 14:16-24; Hebrews 3:14-19).

The time that Paul warned us of false doctrines emerging is now upon us: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NIV).  Many people today espouse one religion or another, and some embrace beliefs from multiple beliefs in the name of ecumenism or perceived similarities between religions. As the Lord Jesus Christ clearly indicated above, He is the only way to everlasting life, so this article is addressing Christian believers. The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly foresaw how Satan would operate in these last days using false teachers under the guise of religion, so He forewarns us: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8 NKJV).

Being Taught By God

Have you noticed how today various Christian denominations (and even “non-denominational” churches) have specific teachings that are “pillars” of their faith? If you have talked to any of their leaders or members, you probably noticed that some of their beliefs are based off a certain man or woman (or their founder), book, or the pastor’s teachings, be they true, false or a blend of both truth and error. Although the Lord uses some true teachers to lead His flock, He repeatedly said in His Word to follow Him (Matthew 4:19), and indeed many followed Him, including His disciples (Matthew 8:1; 8:23; 12:15; 14:13; 19:2; Mark 2:15; 5:24; Luke 7:9; 9:11; John 6:2). Furthermore, the Bible says that God is the one who teaches us, and our allegiance should, therefore, be to Him: “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45 NKJV). As our Teacher and Lord (John 13:13), Jesus also said “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29). If we are His sheep, we hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27).

Our focus as believers, therefore, should be to follow Christ, and Christ alone, not man. As you and I, His children, take our daily bread (Matthew 4:4), the Lord answers our questions through the Word, which is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). When we have questions, we can ask God through prayer and also search the Scriptures for answers using keywords that the Holy Spirit gives (Matthew 7:7; John 16:24). We should not simply be eager to swallow everything that “men/women of God” dish out to us, but like the Bereans, we also should be “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things [are] so” (Acts 17:11). We are further commanded to “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV).

Since God has given us His Spirit to guide us, we must be on guard against unbiblical teaching that aims to lead us away from the truth. As the apostle John wrote, “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him”. (1 John 2:26-27 NKJV).

Witnessing is About Jesus Christ, Not Religion

The Lord Jesus Christ is faithful, and He prepares us for fellowship with other believers and witnessing to nonbelievers, so that we are prepared in and out of season (Acts 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:2). While Jesus was on earth, He taught many things including how we should love and serve one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9; John 1:14). After He rose again He sent His Holy Spirit to teach us all things and remind us of everything we read in the Scriptures (John 14:26). This does not mean if we have read the Bible once, we never have to read it again. Rather, it is beneficial to read it daily and re-read when done (Joshua 1:8). This enables us to easily remember it and apply it in the time of need. The Holy Spirit speaks the truth and testifies about Christ (John 14:16). Following His glorious victory over death, the resurrected Jesus Christ commanded His disciples (and believers who came after them) to spread His message of truth and liberation, the Good News, to all the nations of the world. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV). Sharing the Good News in a world that is hostile to the truth of Christ is not easy, and we might face rejection, prosecution, persecution, or even death. However, we must still boldly share, fearlessly and unashamedly, sharing the truth of Christ before men (Matthew 10:32-33; Luke 12:8-9). The Lord encourages us not to worry about how we will defend ourselves or what to say when brought before synagogues, rulers, authorities “for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:12).

In light of the truth above, why do many churches focus on winning new converts to their denomination or congregation, instead of pointing them to Christ? Doesn’t Jesus warning still apply today? “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). Let us, therefore, seek to point souls to Christ, not to us or some denomination, for only Jesus Christ alone can save us (John 3:16; Acts 4:12).

Whom Do You Belong To – Christ or Religion?

The Bible talks of a rich young ruler who was very religious yet refused to follow Christ (Matthew 19:16-22). Furthermore, the Bible speaks of religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless as one that espouses taking care of the weak (orphans and widows in their distress) and keeping oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27 NIV). Today there is, in the body of Christ, much judging, debating, and division in “…food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17 NKJV), in addition to other theological nuances and interpretations that have created various denominations and congregations. This division is not new and in fact arose during the first Church on whether new believers should observe the entire Mosaic law, and the apostles met together and adopted a united declaration under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:1-29).

Today Christ is no longer the center in many churches, but some forms of religion and doctrinal position have taken center stage. When witnessing and sharing the gospel, we often ask people: “Are you born again?” We’ve noticed that many Christians do not understand what it means to be truly born again and why it is important (John 3:3; 3:5-6; Romans 10:9-10; Ezekiel 36:24-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34). We often get answers like “No, I’m just a Christian” or “I have my own church or religion.” In many cases, people respond to this question citing allegiance to their denomination or sect, such as “I am a Baptist!”, “I am Catholic”, “I am a Seventh-day Adventist”, “I am a Jehovah’s Witness”, etc. This is often followed by them trying to win us to their denomination or church, without magnifying Christ or their personal relationship with Him: “Come visit my church”, “Read this Watchtower magazine”, “Do you keep the Sabbath?”, “We have a great pastor!”, “We have fun activities for children”, “What version of the Bible do you use?”, etc. Many people seem to associate themselves more with a congregation or denomination than with Christ, and their born-again experience equates with membership in a given church or denomination. This is sectarianism, which is a sin, and it feeds into the spirit of division. Paul admonishes us to be “perfectly united in mind and thought” and warns us not to have this kind of division in the church, saying “…“I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ”…” (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:4), because “we are co-workers in God’s service; [we] are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9 NKJV). What unites us in our Christian Fellowship is getting to know God personally and intimately through obedience to Him, prayer, and so partaking of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). The Lord desires us to be one in Him (John 17:11, John 17:21), “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”” (Romans 10:12-13 NKJV).

Brothers and sisters, you were bought at a price, and should, therefore, give God the glory (1 Corinthians 6:20). Furthermore, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV). Therefore, don’t idolize (or boast about) your pastor, “man of God”, the few commandments you keep, or church. You don’t belong to the pastor, neither are you a property of the church; but you belong to Christ, who alone is able and mighty to save: “So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

Remember that the Pharisee who boasted to the Lord about the commands he obeyed did not receive mercy, but the humble tax collector did (Luke 18:9-14). Likewise, the rich young ruler kept all the commands that the Lord Jesus Christ mentioned, but he would not give up his wealth leading the Lord to say it is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven (Matthew 19:16-24). Therefore, it is not those who observe a certain law or commandment that belong to Christ (Romans 3:20), but those who have the Spirit of Jesus Christ through faith in Him (Romans 3:22; 8:9). We are sons and daughters of God if we obey and are led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14). By God’s help, we are lead into all truth and can obey God’s commands (John 16:13; Ezekiel 36:27). With this, we are not encouraging disobedience to God! We highly recommend that each believer studies the Word and pray daily that good fruit and obedience may abound. This is the way we show God our love (John 14;15; 1 John 2:5; John 15:4-8). We do however discourage on boasting in the law, in our works, being prideful, and condemning other children of God. We are all one and equal in Christ (Ephesians 4:4-6; Galatians 3:28).

Are You Baptized into Christ or into Denomination?

Have you experienced a situation where one was forced to become a member of a church in order for them to perform a wedding, funeral or burial? Religion does this, and in some instances, some pastors may not even pray for you or help one in need unless you were a baptized member of their congregation or church (Luke 10:31-32).

Many denominations require their members to be baptized into the local denomination or congregation, otherwise, they are excluded and not recognized as “members in good standing”. Often their tithes and financial contributions will be accepted, but nonetheless, they will not be recognized as “official” members in the Church registry. While this may make sense from the Church financial and growth planning perspective, there is no evidence in the Bible that new believers should be baptized into any sect, denomination or congregation. As a matter of fact, since we belong to God we should be baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3), not man (1 Corinthians 1:13-17). Our Christian mandate is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). These new believers in the body of Christ are disciples for Christ, not the property of the particular congregation or denomination. Because of these kinds of religious practices, some people seek church membership for selfish motives — not to serve, but to be served.

Here are some personal testimonies of questionable religious behaviors we have observed:

  • A few years ago, we were fellowshipping with some Jewish believers. Every week, we would be reminded to invite a “Jewish friend”. Although, we love and appreciate the Jews, we were sad that there was never mention of inviting a non-Jewish friend.
  • I (Janet) was excluded from a WhatsApp group for a Women’s Bible study because I had not signed up to become an official member of the church where most of the women attended, even though I was faithfully and actively participating in the Bible study.
  • Whenever we share the gospel with people, we promote the Lord Jesus Christ, but we often hear comments like these of promoting preachers: “Do you know such and such man? No one can preach like him. He is so good! That’s who I listen to every morning. You should buy his book or start listening to him too!”
  • Some people hang on to false personal prophecies that never come to pass, instead of simply applying prayer through faith and obedience to God. Someone might give a word that you are going to lose all the extra pounds without any effort, but at the end of the day, you would still need to pray and apply the principles that work in order to lose weight including not being gluttonous, eating more healthy foods, exercising, and not giving up.

The Apostle Paul observed that the people of Athens, in addition to being the intellectual type who loved philosophical discourses, were “very religious” as well (Acts 17:22-31). However, their intellect was not sufficient to save their souls – they too, needed a Savior.  Paul’s declaration then is still applicable today:

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 NKJV).

Responding to the Needs of Society

So, is being religious or being a “good person” sufficient for salvation, whether one is a believer in Christ or not? In truth, religion will not save one, but only Christ will. The Lord said He will judge Christian and non-Christians according to His Word. We will not be judged on how faithful we have been following a religion, but how faithfully we obeyed the Lord and applied His word. If you, as a true believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, find yourself being excluded, looked down upon, hurt, condemned or reviled by people who belong to certain sects, remember that “you are the light of the world and the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-14). So, keep seeking God faithfully till the end (Hebrews 3:14), standing firmly on His Word and promise:

“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets (Luke 6:22-23).

Have you been looking to man to teach you, instead of relying more on the Lord and His Holy Spirit? Are you associating yourself with your church or denomination more than Christ? Have you only been willing to help those who are part of your church group and not those outside? Remember, it is good to bless those in need and as we serve others, we are also serving the Lord (Matthew 25:40; Luke 10:25-37).  If you would like to begin your journey of being set free from worthless religion, please accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  Please start with this Prayer of Salvation. For any questions or comments about this article please contact us.

Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance, in Christ,

Janet and Abes.