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  • Shawn Thornton

Are You Religious?

Sunday - January 17th

Devotionals from the Book of James

Scripture to Read Today: James 1:26-27

Those who consider themselves religious...

James 1:26a


To be religious today means a lot and means nothing. The adjective "religious" is a vague descriptor. We identify those dangerously radicalized by a particular faith system as religious. We may refer to those who merely contemplate the abstract metaphysical world and its effects on life as spiritual or religious. Those who attend a house of faith every couple of years might call themselves religious.


From the radicalized adherents of a particular faith willing to kill others to the abstract metaphysical thinkers and everyone in between, our modern understanding of being "religious" includes a broad swath of people. Maybe you find yourself somewhere in this broad swath. But, does that make you genuinely religious?


The adjective "religious" is only used once in the New Testament. James 1:26 says, "Those who consider themselves religious..." He goes on to talk about what they should and should not be known for in life. He uses the noun form of the word in the following verse and then describes what real, authentic religion actually is.


The word "religious" in the original Greek in which the New Testament was written has two root meanings. One focuses on worship. The other focuses on service. Based on these two root meanings, someone religious has both a vertical and horizontal component to their heart's direction. Vertically, they worship some sort of god or gods. Horizontally, they serve others in response to their worship. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament suggest that at the heart of Judeo-Christian faith and values is a total love for God (worship) that results in a complete, others-oriented love (service) for our neighbor.


As James writes in the first chapter of the Book of James, being religious has some form of outward manifestation of a person's inward devotion. Being religious is dynamic and not static. In the broadest sense, being religious means that you engage in worshiping a god or gods and then, because of that worship, doing something with your lives toward others. For us as Christians, it means worshipping God out of a heart of love for Him and then finding ways to serve others out of love, too.


As we seek to live and love like Jesus, there is nothing wrong with being described as "religious" in these basic terms. Ultimately, however, our goal as the followers of Jesus Christ is not to be known simply as "religious" people. Our goal is to introduce others to the Gospel through our lives and our lips. We want how we live to point others lovingly to Christ. We want what we say to direct them graciously to the hope of the Gospel. For us, that is the dynamic, God-centered, others-oriented heart of what it means to be religious as defined in the Scriptures.


Are you religious? Do you look to God in worship and then actively look for ways to serve others? Does your life include one of these but not the other?


Being religious includes both a heart to worship God and a heart to serve others. Without both, we aren't religious.

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