Sunday, October 17, 2010 am        Listen to this lesson

Is It Enough to Be Religious?

                 Today I want to talk about being religious.  The word religious is defined as, “1. Having or showing belief in and reverence for God or a deity. 2. Of, concerned with, or teaching religion.  3. Extremely scrupulous or conscientious” 1AHD.  The Wordnet dictionary adds to these, “concerned with sacred matters or religion or the church” 2   It is my hope that we realize it is important to be religious.

                In Acts 17:22, we read, “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious.”  Paul was on his 2nd missionary Journey and had come to the city of Athens.  He was moved by the numbers of idols and gods that he noticed they were worshipping.  Paul used their religious attitude as an opportunity and the place to begin preaching Christ to them.  This is just one of many examples in scripture where Paul deals with the religions of men.  In fact, it was often the religious nature of so many that gave him occasion to try and convert them.  For the overwhelming majority, throughout the history of man, that people were religious was never a question.  BUT, the real question was: Is it enough to be religious?  

                We too live in a religious world.  There is great division and diversity about religion, but it is none-the-less an influential part of our world.  With all the religious confusion that exists in our midst it has prompted many to become somewhat indifferent about what God expects of us and how to worship Him.  We often hear some say that as long as you believe in God, you will be fine.  I am convinced that we know better than that. And that is something each of us, even in the Lord’s church, needs to guard against.

                BUT, is it possible to be religious and still be wrong?  In our text, we find those carried away by totally false religions.  But is it possible for US, with the truth and in the Lord’s church, to be religious and still be lost? In James 1:26-27 we read, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s 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.  In this text we notice that it is VERY much possible.  You can profess belief in Christ and know the truth of His word and still be lost.  In our lesson today I want to notice some ways that it is possible to have an inadequate religion.

 I.                    You can have zeal without knowledge

a.        We hear so much today about motive and intent.  Great leeway is given when someone does something with good intentions, even if it was wrong or fails.  While one’s motives are important, especially in religion (cf. Matt. 23:23, 9:12-13, etc.), they do not excuse wrong actions.

b.       Romans 10:1-3 describes the zeal of the Pharisees noting that it was without knowledge and therefore condemned.

c.        Paul often described his former conduct as being zealous, but wrong.  Acts 22:3 in Jerusalem he defended his work in Christ, by first recounting his former conduct spoke of being zealous toward God and even acknowledged that they were zealous in the same way.  Acts 26:9-10 Paul says, “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
Galatians 1:14, “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
IN each of these passages Paul admits his zeal was insufficient and based upon error.

d.       Acts 18:24 -26 describes Apollos, an eloquent man who was fervent in spirit, who taught the way of the Lord, but knew only of the baptism of John.  He was corrected of his error and began teaching the whole truth.

e.       There are many today who dismiss their lack of Biblical authority with good intentions and zeal.   Some act without even investigating whether or not something is authorized.  They simply ASSUME that something is acceptable.  Others are teaching that if your sins are committed in ignorance, but with an honest heart, that they will be overlooked, even if you don’t repent of them.

f.         Once again, we are instructed to fervent study God’s word.  There are too many examples in scripture of the consequences of ignorance (the Gibeonites – Josh 9, Uzzah, the man of God – 1 Kn. 13, etc.) to risk your salvation on zeal without knowledge.  2 Tim. 2:15

II.                  You can have knowledge without zeal

a.        An equally dangerous condition for Christians is to think that complete knowledge is sufficient to please God. 

b.       In scripture it is continually emphasized that one needs to DO what is commanded (Matt. 7:21, Luke 6:46 – “Why do you call Me ‘Lord’ and not do the things which I say?”).  In fact, we must act WITH zeal.

                                                   i.      Titus 1:16 speaking of those who are not pure says, “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified from every good work.

                                                  ii.      Titus 2:14, speaks of us being a people, “zealous for good works.”

                                                iii.      Galatians 4:18, “But it is good to be zealous in a good thing…

c.        Far too many profess to be religious, and they are - in the strict sense of the word, but when it comes to applying what they are expected to do, they either don’t do it OR they are apathetic in their efforts.  

                                                   i.      Do not forget how God feels about those who are lukewarm, “I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold.  I could wish that you were cold or hot.  So then, because you are lukewarm, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16)  As a result they were commanded to, “be zealous and repent.” (19)

                                                  ii.      Continually in scripture, words that indicate total effort are used:

1.       Fervent - 1 Pet. 4:8, “Have fervent love for one another”, Jas. 5:16, “the effective, fervent prayer…” Romans 12:11, Toward one another as brethren we are to be, “not lagging in diligence, fervent in Spirit, serving the Lord.”

2.       Increase – 1 Thess. 4:10, concerning brotherly love, which they possessed they were to “increase more and more”

3.       Diligence – 2 Pet. 1:5, “giving all diligence…”, Rom. 12:11, “Not lagging in diligence.”  Prov. 4:23, “Keep your heart with all diligence.”  2 Pet. 1:10, “Be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.”

4.       Might – Eccl. 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…”

5.       Heartily – Col. 3:23, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord.”

6.       Abounding – 1 Thess. 4:1, Phil. 1:9, “That you love may abound still more and more.  2 Cor. 8:7, “But as you abound in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us – see that you abound in this grace also.”

7.       Maturity – 1 Cor. 14:20 – In understanding they were to be mature.  Phil. 3:15 speaks of the mature mind.  Associated with this maturity is growing up – Eph. 4:15, “but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ.

8.       Vigilance – Col. 4:2, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving”;  1 Pet. 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant…”

9.       Complete – often completeness and perfection are tied together in scripture.  The idea is one who has put forth the necessary effort to complete a task.  They did not quit or waver in their efforts.   2 Tim. 3:17 speaks of scripture making the man of God complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work; Col. 4:12 – Epahpras prayed for them that they “may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
Jas. 1:4, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

10.    As we can see, scriptures abundantly challenge us to not only KNOW the truth, but to also with dedication set out to achieve what we need to do.

d.       Some examples of knowledge without zeal

                                                   i.      Church membership without dedication to the work.  IT is continually emphasized that when we obey the gospel we are added to the church (the body of all who are saved - Ac. 2:47) AND that we ought to seek to join a local congregation of faithful Christians (cf. Acts 9:26).  How many are there who identify with the local church, but their efforts are LESS than dedicated?  With lip service they identify themselves, but their actual support of the work is weak.  Acts 2:42-46 describes the brethren in Jerusalem as they supported one another as part of that church. 

                                                  ii.      Teaching the truth but failing to apply it.  Sometimes we have a proper understanding of scriptures on some topic, but our lives are not consistent with what we teach. 
One example of this would be within the family.  We may have a proper understanding of what the scriptures say about divorce (cf. Matt. 19:9, Mal. 2:16, etc.) – but do we live our lives trying to prevent divorce (cf. Col. 3:18-19, Phil. 2:3-5 – thinking about our spouse more than ourselves, 1 Pet 3:7- prayers not hindered, Eph. 5:22-31, etc.).
We may be religious doctrinally but are we truly applying it in all areas?

                                                iii.      Conviction without teaching – Matt. 5:14-16 speaks of being a light.  Jesus said we are not to hide our light.  We need to be visible!  Do our words and action demonstrate that visibility?  Are we willing to defend the truth to others?  Will we share our faith with others? Acts 8:4 gives the example. 2 Tim. 2:2 gives the instructions.  1 Peter 3:15 gives the command.  Are we religious enough that we will stand up for our Lord in all things?  Matt. 10:32-33 

                                                iv.      Giving without a proper attitude – 2 Cor. 9:7 commands that we be cheerful givers.  1 Cor. 16:1-2 commands that we give liberally and as we have prospered.  Matt. 6:1-4 tells us that in our giving and charity we not sound the trumpet so others can see.
We can give because we are forced to or to be seen, and that might be religious, but is it enough?

                                                  v.      Attendance but not all services – every assembly we have is done for a reason.  The elders want you to be here as much as you possibly can and there are numerous reasons.  Hebrews 10:25 commands us to assemble together with our brethren.  It ought to be something we do as much as possible.  But for many, they are satisfied with the occasional appearance.  Such may demonstrate that you are religious, but is it enough?  If God truly is first, you will SEEK His kingdom first (Matt. 6:33) AND you will seek every opportunity to be with those of His kingdom.

                                                vi.      Faith without works – James 2:18 says that we show our faith by our works.  This is a perfect example of understating what true religion is about.  There are many who believe in God and Jesus and His church and the truth, etc.  But is their belief enough?  If they FAIL to do what they should they have failed – Vs. 17 says, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  As we conclude this lesson, let us revisit James 1:26-27.  PURE religion is to VISIT the needy.  It is DOING what needs to be done.  Contrast this with the illustration of James in Jas. 2: 14-16.

                And thus we can see that while we need to be religious, it must be MORE than what most in this world expect.  May we all seek a religion in our lives that is wholly acceptable to God rather than man.
Ac. 10:34,35, “Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”