Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
- James 1:26
What makes for “good religion”?
It seems like everyone has a different answer to this question. “Go to church!” “Have a daily quiet time.” “Don’t drink or smoke or chew … or associate with those who do.” “Volunteer your time and serve others.” “Pray.”
What do you picture when you picture “good religion”?
This week we’ll be exploring James’ thoughts on religion, particularly the difference between “worthless religion” and “acceptable religion.”
Many modern people have attempted to reject the category of religion entirely. They say “I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship” or “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.” These statements reflect a rejection of some of the more harmful aspects of religion. Religion can be dull, stale, phony, hurtful, irrelevant and weird.
James certainly would have known the baggage that can come with religion. His fiercest opponents in Jerusalem would have been very religious people. But he wasn’t willing to throw out the category.
If you study the Bible for a while, you’ll quickly find that many of the biblical authors long for reform. They long to see things that were originally good restored to their original goodness. They grieve over good things that have been tarnished. They hold out hope that God can take something that’s useless and return it to usefulness.
When James distinguishes between worthless religion (in today and tomorrow’s passage) and acceptable religion (in Wednesday, Thursday and Friday’s passage), he enters into this reformation stream. He’s willing to cling to the good things God’s done in the past and use them as a basis and guide for moving forward into the future.
What’s been your experience with religion? What do you think of as worthless religion? What do you think of as good religion?