Out of the Closet?
Romans 12:1-2, "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (NASB)
James 1:26-27, "If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this ones religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
I think it valid to consider these passages together. The words religious and religion used in the James' passage have to do with the external acts we perform in regard to our service to God. There is no profit in the practice of showing piety in our congregational worship, while neglecting our duties and responsibilities of service and purity of thought and action, specifically, James said, in the area of self control of our tongues. Combining that idea with the teaching of Paul in the Roman letter, our worship to God is our service to Him in the presentation of ourselves as renewed and transformed by the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.
It is commonly said by preachers and teachers that we must have authority for everything we do in religion. If we consider that statement in light of the definition of religion as it is used in James 1, such is a totally correct affirmation. Many are denying the validity of that premise these days as they view the New Testament as something other than an authoritative guide for life, but those people are simply wrong.
We need, however, to get beyond a condemnation of the New Hermeneutics folks and see just how this statement of the need for authority should really be applied.
As there are many rooms in a house and different things we do in the various rooms of the house, there are many things we do in our lives. We have our business life, our social life, our family life, our civil life, our religious life, etc. Are they all equal? Does each one of these have a room in our house? Is our religious life put away in a closet and taken out to use maybe on Sunday or Wednesday? Just as Bibles are prominently displayed on many bookshelves though not read with any frequency, our religious closet may be prominent in our house. The question we seek to answer is, Does it deserve a room of its own?
My assertion is this. Our religion is not wrapped up in the congregational acts of worship. Our religion is not just what we do when we come together. Our religion is not what we allow or preclude from our churches. Our religion is our life. It governs what we do in business, what we do in our family, and what we do in our neighborhood, just as much as it regulates what we do with our brethren in the church. The statement should not be, We must have authority for all we do in religion. but, rather, We must have authority from God for all that we do. Period. If our lives are totally centered on the authority of Christ, we will not try to pigeon-hole religion in a closet somewhere to be lost or forgotten.
Individually, we will have a totally new outlook. Church work will be a thing of the past. All our work will be for the Lord. Our Bible study will be different. We will be searching the scriptures daily to see what we can learn from Gods word for every aspect of life. Some people have dropped their focus away from what the kingdom is, to avoiding what the kingdom is not. "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). Unfortunately, we must continue to deal with those who refuse to see that the church is not eating and drinking. There is no place in Gods plan for the social gospel. (That includes the fellowship halls, ball clubs, church support of recreation and entertainment, etc.) If we could help them to see and to know true religion and true worship, they could see that the kingdom is just as Paul said it is, ...righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If we took religion out of the closet and made it our life, we could get beyond this debate, from both sides, and get on with serving God. The devil is the source of this division. He has drawn our attention away from the battle with him so that we focus on our differences with each other rather than our total hatred of him and all his ways.
What this will do for the church is to fill it with a new zeal for reaching the lost in every aspect of our lives. Personal evangelism has been closetized as a church work program, so that we do not do the things we ought to do in teaching our neighbor, living exemplary before our business associates, seeking out righteous relationships socially, especially in the realm of seeking a mate. If our religion were our life, it would guide every decision we make in respect for the sovereign authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will also fill the church with people not seeking to justify some proposed action, but seeking the will of the Lord from a view of doing just what He has said to do, how He said to do it, and doing it all the time.
The religion of Jesus Christ is not a religion of groups. It is a religion of people. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). You will stand before the Lord and answer for your life. Your responsibility to a group exists only due to the fact that God has added you to the kingdom of His dear Son. He has ordained local, geographic (community) based congregations. As we work and worship within these groups, we are directed, and limited by those directions, to the work with which we are to busy ourselves. We must keep His law in these matters. But, brethren and friends, that does not define the totality of Christianity.
As we decorate the rooms of our lives, may we be diligent not to have a religion room that we visit every so often. May our religion be anything but vain. Watch our tongues. See to our work. Be busy in spreading the gospel. Get your religion on the table and work with it every day.
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