“My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.“
Paul belonged to the ‘straitest’ or most strict of sects within Judaism: Pharisaism. Now, we know that Jesus had choice words to say to the Pharisees… but does that mean ‘religion’ is false or wrong? No, it just means that when men mess about with truth, they come up with a very poor replica. It is this replica that is false, not religion itself. Yet, many Christians piously cry out that they are not of ‘religion’, but of God! They are mistaken, for there is a true form of religion, approved by God. If this were not so, then the words of James 1:17 have no meaning or relevance:
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Notice this – “Pure religion”. These words show us that there IS such a thing as true religion. Sadly, ignorant Christians say many things they do not understand. One of them is that we must not practice religion and that ‘Christianity’ is something different. James disagrees with that!
‘Religion’, thrēskeia (in this text), means true discipline applied to what we believe and do, including worship, derived from thrēskos, meaning to fear God or to worship Him. Wisdom begins with fear of God… and religion is an expression of that fear and praise! It is “pure” (katharos) when it is clean, purified by fire, holy without sin, free from corrupt desires (amiantos: undefiled), blameless. Is this not another way of referring to righteousness?
Such a righteous state will result in acts of love, such as visiting the orphans and widows when they are distressed (these are just examples, not exhaustive), and in a continual check on ones’ self, to see that he or she is sinless. (“Unspotted”, aspilos, means to be free of anything that might bring censure upon us, free from vice/sin. Many Christians also hold to the odd idea that we cannot be perfect or sinless… see my other articles on this false notion). This verse tells us that the opposite can apply – false religion. The verse before this also refers to religion:
“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion [is] vain.”
In this verse we see that some men (most?) make a pretence to true religion (described above). Thus, they only “seem” to be “religious”. “Seem”, dokeō, is to have an opinion or to think; to self-assess ones’ self to be religious. Oh, how many Christians think in their own minds they are holy! But, do they bridle their tongues?
To bridle is to keep in check, restrain. It does NOT mean being silent when there is a need to speak; nor does it mean staying quiet when others are speaking or acting in an unholy way. It means that when we speak out we must be absolutely certain we are right, and that we speak correctly. That also goes for doctrine. But, most Christians hold to false doctrine (often in the guise of ‘tradition’) and so deceive themselves into thinking that what they believe and say is true. In reality, their “religion is in vain”… useless and worthless.
Reference to the Jewish religion by Paul is either to the noun, Ioudaїsmos (Ἰουδαϊσμός), which simple means the Jewish faith and worship, Judaism, or to thrēskeia (see above). The latter is found in Acts 26:5 and refers to the rites and ceremonies of the Pharisees within Judaism. What this means is that because the same word is used to describe both Judaistic and Christian faith and practices, that the same meanings apply to both. That is, both Judaism at that time, and Christianity, could be either pure or defiled! This is supported by the fact that Paul and others attended synagogues and the Temple for a while, implying that what they attended was of the pure kind. Then, in Acts 13:43 we read:
“Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”
Proselytes, prosēlytes, were simply ‘newcomers’ who were once strangers to truth. It can apply to either Gentiles becoming Christians or Gentiles becoming Jews. They were “religious”; this time using the word sebō, meaning to revere or to worship. They were devout. Again, Paul uses the words to describe something commendable. Indeed, those who were “religious proselytes” were commended to “continue in the grace of God”, thus affirming that ‘religious’ is a true and good word to use, and a good position to be in If it is genuine.
There is, then, such a thing as good religion. It underlines the fact that ‘religion’ is what we ought to practice in a good sense, always being righteous and true. It is only false or bad religion that attracts denunciation.
© April 2012
Published on www.christiandoctrine.com
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