The noun “religion” and the adjective “religious” have both become nigh unto cuss words in today’s evangelical vocabulary. “Religion” is often thought to be synonymous with legalism and externalism. Continue reading . . .
The noun “religion” and the adjective “religious” have both become nigh unto cuss words in today’s evangelical vocabulary. “Religion” is often thought to be synonymous with legalism and externalism. By externalism I mean an approach to life where the only thing that matters is behavioral conformity to a set of rules. The Pharisees were profoundly “religious” because in terms of what you could see, they obeyed the law with meticulous detail. But internally many of them were devoid of true love for God. Religion, then, is considered by many today to be equivalent to a rigid and lifeless traditionalism.
We often contrast “religion” with the “gospel” and urge one another to avoid the former and embrace the latter. But it wasn’t until the late 20th century that “religion” became a cuss word in Christian circles. In James 1:26-27 and throughout most of church history the word “religion” simply referred to the totality of one’s ultimate allegiance and commitment. Your “religion” encompassed both what you believe and how you behave. It was possible, then, to have a good “religion” and to be “religious” in a way that honored God and blessed people.
I would even go so far as to say that the word “religious” in James 1:26-27 is synonymous with faith in Jesus Christ. I say this because of what follows immediately in James 2:1. There James says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Ch