Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - The True and Genuine Religion

Many years ago, I embarked on a study of the different religions and denominations to understand why some say, “This religion or denomination is the true religion.” The question of what religion or denomination is the true religion has been around for a long, long time and will, in all probability, remain with humankind for all time. 

Each religion or denomination will point out how they do this or that and why theirs is the true and genuine religion. As an independent biblical scholar, I have listened to and studied all of the different treatises, documents, books and interpretation for and against each one.

What struck me the most is what James wrote in the first chapter of his epistle. In one simple sentence, James captured the very essence of Christianity. James writes, “27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

There are a couple of key teachings in this one sentence that need further thought. The first is that the true and genuine religion is defined by God the Father and not man. If you believe that you can define salvation or determine that you are able to provide redemption through your own acts, then you are foolish in your thinking. Our Heavenly Father is the only one who can provide us salvation through His Son, Christ Jesus. It is only by acknowledging him as our personal Savior and Lord that we can receive the perfect and undeserving gift of grace. 

In Exodus, we discover one of God’s many names, Jehovah Mekoddishkem. This name translated means “The Lord Who Sanctifies You” or “The Lord Who Makes Holy”. It is only through Him that we can be sanctified or holy. In Exodus 31, the Lord tells Moses, “13 Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.’”

Only God can make you holy or sanctify you. We cannot just say we are made holy or create a religion or denomination out of thin air and call ourselves saved or holy. It is only by God the Father that we can be saved and become a member of His kingdom.

As you think about this, you begin to see that only God the Father can determine the true and genuine religion. The next part is equally important. The true and genuine religion is more than just a bunch of words or creed that is nailed to a wall. It is living religion that breathes and acts daily in accordance to the Word and the Will of the Lord. 

In the latter part of verse 27, James writes that religion means “caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” The true and genuine religion is not only sanctified or made holy by God the Father but it also means that it causes us to act with compassion to those in need, particularly orphans and widows, and by refusing to allow the world to corrupt us. This means active participation and constant vigilance in our daily walk with the Lord. Once again, it is more than just a bunch of words strung together to make us feel good about ourselves. It requires us to be active participants in our true and genuine religion that comes from God. 

Later in his epistle, James writes in the second chapter, “19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

James, once again in simple terms, tells us that faith and good deeds go hand in hand. We cannot have faith and call it enough. We must exercise our faith by doing those things we are called upon to do by Our Heavenly Father. 

Jesus, in Matthew 23, criticizes the religious leaders of his day and points out their ideas on religion. In that chapter, Jesus provides a scathing indictment of the religious leaders of his day, each working to push their own ideas of faith and taking advantage of their positions as religious leaders. As you read this chapter, you can easily see how the leaders of that time carefully maneuver around and manipulate the scriptures to give them what they want. Jesus calls them “blind guides” and “hypocrites”. 

In that same chapter of Matthew, Jesus says, “27 What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

If we follow our own ideas of religion and build our lives around them, then we are no better than the hypocrites of Jesus’ times. We are dead on the inside and filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. We cannot, as Jesus told the multitude during the “Sermon on the Mount”, serve two masters. Although Jesus was speaking about money, those same words and lesson can be applied to religion. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we persist in creating our own religion to suit our own needs and desires. God the Father is the only one that sees that true and genuine religion and calls us to action to do good deeds to show others that we have faith.

In Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea preached to the believers there that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas argued vehemently against this. Finally, delegates were selected and sent to Jerusalem to put to bed, once and for all, this question.

There was a long, drawn out discussion, some argued that believers needed to be circumcised while others argued that it was not necessary and are, as Peter states, “saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.

This debate, as recorded in Acts 15, nearly tears the early church apart. Finally, James stands up and gives the best summation of why Gentiles who are saved should not need to be circumcised. He states, “19 And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 21 For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”

James, in just a few sentences, states the important things that the saved Gentiles should follow. He boils down what are the acceptable actions of the saved in the eyes of God. In short, nothing that is done by a person can save them. It is faith and the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus that saves.

Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, writes the young preacher, “4 Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God.

Paul was talking about some of the men who engaged in endless discussions on the merits of certain teachings. The important thing is to live a life devoted to faith and loving and worshiping God the Father. Meaningless speculations only takes us away from our daily walk and clouds up the issues. By following the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God, we can live a simple Christ-like life devoted to serving and loving God and those around us. 

As you go through this week, I ask you to think about the words of Jesus, James and Paul and to reflect on your faith and the meaning of true and genuine religion. When you realize that we are all brothers and sisters in one family, you can easily and completely stand firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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