Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
Soundbites are just that, soundbites. They do not an entire meal describe! They are a small sample of one ingredient that was used in the recipe of one item of a seven course meal! The title of today's message, Religion is Useless is a sound bite; moreover, it is an example of how very wrong we can be when we isolate one fragment of what has been said on a subject and treat it as though it were all that was said!
Here's the text from which this soundbite is taken: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. 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.” (James 1.22-27).
No one can deny that the Bible says that religion is useless; we have cited book, chapter, and verse. For that matter, neither can one deny that the Bible says, “There is no God.” We can also cite book, chapter, and verse for that (see Psalm 14.1). Some people might also be shocked to learn that Jesus said concerning a fully grown man and his parents, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned...” (John 9.3). Did Jesus not know that “...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”? (Romans 3.23). Of course He did! Soundbites are dangerous in secular life but they are doubly dangerous in our spiritual lives!
James did say, “Religion is useless.” In the same context, however, he clarified what kind of religion is useless. It should also be noted that he went on to say what kind of religion is pure and undefiled! The types of religion he addressed are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One was a word-only religion and the other was a word-and-action religion. One was useless; the other was pure and undefiled!
James did not say, “All religion is useless!” Herein lies one of the many quirks of our English language. In order to know whether James was speaking of all religion or only saying that some religions were useless, one is forced to consider all that James said on the matter. In this case it is relatively easy because his thoughts are expressed in the very same passage. However, in other cases and where other subject matter is under consideration, the same might not be the case.
James could have said, “Some religion is useless!” However, he didn't. That is what he taught and what he meant, but that is not what he said! God and James leave it up to our commonsense and fairness of mind to be able to interpret words in the way they were intended and not put a slant on them to prove our point or to justify the conclusions we have already reached apart from what God has said. Like it or not, God “invented” words and He knows how to use them. For us to attempt to turn God's words on Him is the ultimate insult and the height of arrogance!
Useless religions exist. They exist under the guise of wholesome spiritual organizations. Their doctrines may have an apparent biblical basis, but they fail the test of commonsense and fairness. God expects this test to be applied in all that we do, especially in things that we label as religious! Yes, some religions are useless, but we must be careful as an old soundbite goes: “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!”
1. What type of religion is useless in James' text under consideration?
2. Might there be other useless religions? Did James profess to identify all useless religions?
3. When practice does not measure up to belief, might there be useless religion at hand? Why or why not?
4. Do you believe that God expects our interpretation of His word to pass the commonsense and fairness test? Why or why not? Can you think of some commonly held beliefs that do not pass this test?
"Word from Scotland" from
An Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the Christian Church at RomeRead Article »
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