True or False: “What the world needs today is more religion.” I suppose that most readers of “You and God” would answer that question with an unequivocal “False!” But wait a minute, please. James, in his New Testament epistle, says that there is a religion that is pure and undefiled. (James 1:27) He contrasts it with a religion that is self-deceived and defiled. So, it depends on what kind of religion one is speaking of when you contemplate whether the world needs more religion.
Actually, there has never been a dearth of the deceived and defiled religion. It reared its ugly head in Genesis 4 when Cain brought to God in an act of what he considered to be worship the fruit of his own labors and found that nothing he could do, in his own strength and in contradiction to God’s revealed Word, would please God. It was false worship on the part of Cain, and as such sin; and sin, when it is finished brings forth death; and in this case it eventuated in Cain’s spiritual death and ultimately his physical death. Religion that is deceiving and defiling leaves a path of ruined and wasted lives along life’s way. “…the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 16:25)
“Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you,” Jesus said to the miracle working false prophets who He said would stand before Him in the day of judgment. Their false religion though no doubt involving good works (“…and in thy name done many wonderful works” Matt. 7:22) will only merit at the great White Throne judgment God’s sentence of death. (Rev. 20:11-15) To be self-deceived is to be self-destroyed when it comes to religion that is defiled.
Consider the men on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece, with whom Paul dialogued as recorded in Acts 17. They were religious to the max, building altars to every conceivable god, even one to the “unknown God” in case they forgot one, yet Paul said, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you,” (Acts 17:23) and then Paul proceeded to preach to those ancient philosophers the resurrection of Jesus Christ, resulting in the salvation of some of them, including “Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman name Damaris and others with them.” (Acts 17:34) Athens was a mega center of false religion in the first century.
There are other Biblical citations of religion that defiles, one of the most graphic being the religionists of whom Jude, half-brother of Jesus, writes in his brief epistle. Speaking of those who had gone the way of Cain and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, Jude says, “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds, trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots, raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” (Jude 12,13)
James does say that “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)
How striking! What a contrast to those Pharisees of Jesus’ day who wore long robes and prayed even longer prayers in the most conspicuous places in town so they could be seen by men and considered to be religious! Jesus described them and their religiosity in the most scathing of rebukes as recorded in Matthew 23 where He called them hypocrites, likened them to whited sepulchers which indeed appear beautiful out ward but are within full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness. (Matt. 23:27)
He said that these deceived religionists devoured widows houses! (Matt. 23:14) They were indeed “blind guides,” “fools and blind,” and Jesus posed what must have been the most discomforting dilemma to them ever when He said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:33)
This world does not need any more of that kind of religion, but the hope that it will eventually die of inertia is a baseless hope. It has been in this world since the first family sinned, and it will be with the world through the millennium as evidenced in Satan, the master deceiver leading a final post-millennial assault on Christ’s kingdom, having deceived peoples living in nations at that time “on the four quarters of the earth.” (Rev. 20:8,9)
But there is the pure religion and undefiled of which James, also half-brother of Jesus, spoke. It is characterized by two key components: (1) Demonstration of one’s love for Christ and His Church by visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and (2) Keeping oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)
God has always shown special care and consideration for those who are the fatherless. He is called “the helper of the fatherless” (Ps. 10:14; 68:5) and the Psalmist says, “the Lord relieveth the fatherless.” (Ps. 146:9). He moved Paul to write to his protégé, Timothy, that the church should be careful to “honor them that are widows indeed,” (I Tim. 5:3) and then proceeds to give a specific definition of who would qualify as a “widow indeed.”
Finally, Paul says that one who embraces pure religion and undefiled is one who keeps himself “unspotted from the world.” That is a full-time job and a life-long task! John says that we must not “love the world, neither the things that are in the world.” (I John 2:15) We are called to live a separated life. The “world” does not refer to anything geographical but rather to all things wrapped up in what we know as the world system which opposes God’s will and Word, embryonically portrayed in the Tower of Babel experience (Genesis 11) and graphically epitomized in the great whore sitting upon many waters (Rev. 17:1). To keep oneself unspotted from the anti-God, antichrist, anti-Bible world can only be achieved by His Grace, through His Spirit and in His Word. God help the Church today, your church, my church to live and love “pure religion and undefiled.”
“Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” (Zech.7:9,10)