What is religion? That is when we go to church, we sing praises, we worship, we attend weekly fellowships, we kneel down in prayer, we raise our hands high in adoration, and then we go to church again, we sing praises, and maybe add a few days of fasting. We let go of meat, of meals, of tv, etc.
But, are you sure? If this is how you define religion, then better read on. You are straying away from God's original framework for "religion". The REAL religion is not a scheduled ritual in church. Believe it or not, even if you are loaded with ministries, you may not be practicing the real religion in which God blesses.
A real religion acts upon the Scripture. The only proper way of dealing with the Scripture is doing it.And this is how we should act according to the Bible. If you would read James 1, James enumerated the three components of a real religion.
1. Bridles his tongue and doesn't deceive his heart
People who are easy to find faults in others, who are easily angered, are not practicing true religion. They see themselves as "more religious" than others who have fault. They forget that they too are sinners and imperfect; that they too need the grace of God to be saved. True religion is also free from hypocrisy. It doesn't show a doble kara where you wear the pious hat only on some days and in front of some people.
2. Shows compassion to the oppressed
I realized that many of us are lacking in this aspect. If you would read Isaiah 1:10-17, God rejects people's worship however lavish because they use it as a pious evasion of the self-denying demands of helping the weak. Even lifting their hands in prayer avails nothing (ESV Study bible). God also defines the true meaning of fasting in Isaiah 58:6-7. The fasting that He chooses is more than dieting. It is to loose the bonds of wickedness; undo straps of yoke; let oppressed go free; share bread with the hungry; bring homeless into the house; and cover the naked.
Now, you might excuse yourself saying, "How can I help the poor? If I give them money, they might use it wrongly or give it to syndicates." Well, it's not only money that they need. They'd also need food, clothing, shelter, justice and freedom. Are you willing to help them even if it'd cost you? The real religion helps people who are in need, those who cannot give anything in return.
I am emphasizing this number because as evangelicals, we are guilty of sharing what is most convenient. Words. Mouth service. Talks. Thoughts. Most of the ministries that relate to the poor start with sharing the gospel (through a story, an event, an outreach, a medical mission) and end with it as well. It usually lasts one day long. After that, we leave them behind and hope that God would work in the "seed" that we've planted. I know that the Gospel is the most important gift mankind can ever receive. But I hope you would consider the broader scope of the gospel message. I hope that you would look at its entirety. Faith is not limited to proclaiming the gospel message in words and training followers to do the same. Faith is "doing" the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation no matter what it takes.
Test your heart, are you sharing the Word only because it is the most convenient? Telling a story and praying for someone is a lot easier than inviting the crippled homeless man living under the bridge you see everyday on your way home from work. The previous is free; the latter, uncomfortable.
3. Unstained of the world
In one word: UNWORLDLY. Remaining "not of this world" in this world is definitely going against the flow of society. This would mean that our vision, mission, personal strategies and daily decisions should not base on the world's measure of success, but on God's measure of righteousness.
My quiet time today pointed out that I am so unreligious (if there is such a word) or ungodly (ouch!) because I am not able to practice the real religion that God has set out for me to do. And so I pray that God may forgive me for engaging in a comfortable religion far too long. May God give me the idea as to how I should help the oppressed with the gifts that He has given me. May I learn to share more, to give more and to love more, especially to those that the world ignores.
I hope that you would do the same. Let's us take each day as an opportunity to share to the marginalized.. to the child that knocks at the car window, to our maids, to the old man sleeping on a cardboard box. May we see each instance as a divine appointment for us to share God's love and word.
God bless you!