Sunday, February 27, 2011

Useless Religion (Part 1of 2)

“If anyone among you thinks he is religious,
And does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart,
This ones religion is useless.”
James 1:26

The passage above is taken from the New Testament book of James. The New Testament book of James is written to the Christian church, and therefore this passage is addressed to Christians.  If you consider yourself to be a Christian then this passage is addressed to you. 

But more specifically, this passage of James is addressed to those who claim to be Christians but cannot “bridle” (control) their tongues.  It is written to those who curse, use foul language, tell dirty jokes, gossip, slander and do other such things with their mouths in a consistent manner and yet claim to be the children of God. But the scriptures are explicit; those who undergo the New Birth (John 3:1-21), those who become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:2-4), undergo a moral transformation that radically alters the very way that they think, what they do and even the things that they say.

Perhaps you are one of these people who claim to be a Christian and yet cannot control your mouth. If so, James has two things to say to you in verse 26.

First, you have deceived your “own heart” and second, your “religion is useless”! But rather than being offended by these words I would beg you to humble yourself, pause before your maker and consider these things for just a moment. 

First of all, how do such people deceive their own hearts? In two ways according to the text; First, they think they are religious. Secondly, they think their religion is useful. 

Such a person’s “religion” is not true religion and neither can it accomplish any good. They deceive their hearts by commending themselves for their practice of “religion” and then convince themselves that these “religious” things they have done (such as going to church, being baptized, taking communion, giving of their finances, etc.) are able to do them some good and even save their souls! But James says that such religion is merely an illusion with no substance to it.

Secondly, James says that their religion is “useless”. But what does he mean by “useless”? This word was used of idolatry and false religion. It literally means vain, empty, unprofitable, corrupt, perverted and ineffectual. Such religion is impotent, it cannot produce any good effect, it is powerless to save the practitioner and the only effect it really has is to bind those that practice it tighter in their deception. Such religion is like a house built on the sand. It looks like it will shelter them from the storm of God’s judgment but it will only fall upon them, and thus add to their misery.

But many have replied that even though they continue to use such language and sin with their mouths, they “try not to”. “Nobody’s perfect”, they say. “We just have to keep asking for forgiveness”. This sounds very nice but consider the wickedness of such a response; What does the text say? It says, “If anyone.. ...does not bridle his tongue...” he is deceived and his religion is useless. You either bridle your tongue or you don’t. If you keep on trying but can’t bridle your tongue, then you still have not bridled your tongue!  And if you have not bridled your tongue, then James says that your religion is useless! 

If you are telling yourself that your religion is useful even though you can’t bridle your tongue, then in effect you are saying that this verse is not true and God is mistaken.  You are contradicting and quarreling with God and that is a foolish endeavor indeed! “woe to the one who quarrels with his maker..”  (Isaiah 45:9). 

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