True Religion

It’s more than a brand of jeans.  More than a social cause.  It’s a lifestyle.

These days many of us are very familiar with what the Bible says in James 1:27 about the essence of true religion.  It has been the preface to many a sermon, worship talk, or speech to rouse us from our self-absorbed slumber into action for the good of those who are hurting around the globe.

Yet in all the swarm of activity around our social causes, some of us have lost something.  Before I go any further, let me say that social causes are good.  God encourages, even requires us to take care of those who need help.  But there’s something else that’s good.  It is the balancing side to a scale that is growing fearfully unbalanced.

It’s the Mary perspective.

Jesus once visited his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany (Luke 10:38-42).  While Martha was busy doing the good thing of preparing a meal to serve Jesus, Mary was doing the good thing of sitting at His feet, listening to the words of truth.  Both were good things.  But one was commended as better: listening to the words of Jesus.

That practice of taking time to study and learn from Jesus is often neglected in favor of active service projects.  Neither side should be neglected.  Take a closer look at James 1:27:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

That last part often goes unmentioned.  But God puts the two together: service for others and remaining spiritually pure.  It’s the same thing in the great commandment: love for God first, with everything you are, and then a responsibility to love others as you love yourself.  One can never be separated from the other.  This concept is all throughout the Bible:

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice,
 correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:16, 17, ESV.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:34-40, NLT.

There it is.  Care for others and love for God, shown in obedience to all His commands.  This is true religion.  It is not an unbalanced thing.  It does not take from one side only and believe that is enough.  It does not cloister itself away in a shack in the mountains, studying the Bible 24/7.  It does not overfill its plate with projects and causes until there’s no time for anything else and burnout sets in.

It balances actively seeking God in His word with serving Him by serving others.  Jesus Himself gave us the example.  He spent time teaching, healing, and preaching, but He also took time out for deep seasons of communion with His Father.  We’re definitely billions of light years from being on the same level as Jesus, so how much more do we need deep seasons of communion with God and time to study His word?

Notice Matthew 7:21-13:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”

My good works cannot save me.  But they will be important.  Through them, my obedience to God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself will be shown.  Similarly, a pure life, washed clean from sin through His blood and kept unspotted by following His words, shows my love for Him above all others.  Both sides working together show whether or not I have truly done the will of my Father.  Love for God with everything in us first, and then love for others as for ourselves.  This is the essence of true religion.

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The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 2

Step 2: Repent and Be Changed

What is repentance?  It is more than just saying you’re sorry for the things you’ve done wrong.  It is a conscious choice to turn away from doing those things.  This step is very important.  Repentance is where change begins.  Without it, your sins will bring you down to eternal death.  (Luke 13:3, 5.)  You see, sin is a fatal disease.  The only cure is found in Jesus.  He lived on Earth as a human, among humans.  He endured the same weaknesses and challenges we all endure, and He was tempted by Satan the enemy to give in to sin.  In fact, Jesus has been tempted in all the same ways you have been tempted, without failing even once! So He knows exactly how you feel when you are tempted to sin.  The Father didn’t give Him any extra special help that is not available to you.  (Hebrews 4:15.)  Jesus remained sinless, because the sacrifice for sin had to be completely pure and spotless.  If He hadn’t been, He couldn’t have died for our sins and you and I would be doomed to eternal death from this disease.

Jesus bought us back from the enemy at the price of His life.  When we accept this gift, we must leave behind the old life of sin and be changed by His power into His likeness.  This is very important!  He can’t bring us home unless this whole process is completed, because if we could bring even one sin with us into our heavenly home, it would become just as bad as or worse than this crazy world we live in right now.

If you have never asked Jesus to forgive your sins, let me give you the simple version of how this works:

You have sinned.  You realize that you have sinned and you are sorry that you did.  So you go to Jesus in prayer and confess your sins.  Maybe you don’t remember them all by name, but you know you’ve sinned and you tell Him so.  Then you apologize and ask Him to forgive you.

In heaven, there is a record in a book of all the things you’ve ever done, good and bad.  It is from this book that God will judge all people.  (Revelation 20:12.)  When you ask forgiveness of your sins, He erases them all from this book and writes your name in another book, the Book of Life.  Everyone whose name is in this Book is a candidate for heaven.  (Revelation 21:10, 27.)  
So when the Father forgives you of your sins, He doesn’t remember them anymore.  (Isaiah 43:25.)  Yes, you will still feel bad for what you’ve done, but don’t cling to the guilt.  You are forgiven, and He looks at you as if you hadnever sinned before!  And if you sin again, He is just waiting for you to repent and come back to Him, and He is more than happy to forgive you again and help you change.  But you mustn’t think you can just do whatever you want because He’ll always forgive you.  He can only take to heaven those who repent of their sins, are baptized, and are converted.

Where does baptism fit into all of this?  It is a public symbol of your commitment to God.  It shows that you accept Jesus’ sacrifice for you, and you want to follow in His footsteps, giving up your life to Him.  The act of baptism symbolizes your death to sin when you go under the water.  When you are raised up out of the water, it signifies the birth of a new you, a new creation in Christ.  The old you has died and a new you is resurrected the same way Jesus was resurrected.  (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 2:4-6; Colossians 2:12, 13; Galatians 3:26, 27.)  You are reborn, given a new chance to live your life differently than before.

Conversion means a changed life.  It involves turning to the worship of the one true God with your whole life and returning to loving and obeying Him.  This conversion takes place as you spend more and more time with God.

You may ask how you can spend time together with Him when you can’t see Him.  Let me explain.  Many years ago, God inspired some of His prophets, apostles, and others to write a guide book or text book of sorts to direct you through life (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16).  You guessed!  It’s called the Holy Bible, sometimes referred to as the scriptures or God’s Word.  Every word in it is God-inspired.  It has everything you need to know to pass the final test before the great Home-going.  Read and study God’s Book.  He’s put so much information in there to help you.  Read wisely and you will learn from the mistakes and experiences of some of His other children who’ve been adopted before you.  You will also learn all about Jesus, and how He lived so that you can follow in His footsteps.

God’s word speaks directly to you and your daily situations.  There are principles to direct you in every area of your life.  Your responsibility is to look for them.  They will change your life!  You will become more and more like Jesus, and more and more ready to live with Him in heaven.  But don’t just read God’s word; study it carefully every day.  As you do this, ask yourself, “What does this tell me about what my Father and Savior are like?” In this way, you’ll get to know the Father and the Son very well.

Also, talk to Him!  Continuously.  God never gets tired of hearing from you! In fact, He longsto hear from you.  There’s so much He can tell you, so much help He wants to offer!  Just ask Him for anything you need.  Anything.  True, He doesn’t give you everything you ask Him for.  Not everything you ask for is in your best interest.  Sometimes you ask for things that would do you more harm than good.  However, if it’s in your best interest, He is more than happy to supply it (1 John 5:14)!

When you talk to God, you can tell Him your deepest thoughts, desires, and secrets.  He cares about every single thing that has anything to do with you.

Another way you can learn about Him is by studying nature.  God’s creation gives you a view of His personality and character.  They show you how He feels about you.  You see, He thought of you when He created nature.  It’s not perfect as it was when He first made it, but some of its original beauty still shines through.  So when you take time to enjoy the glory of a sunrise or the tranquil beauty of a mountain stream, you can know that He made it with you in mind because He loves you.

Yet another way to learn about God is through the various experiences He permits in your life.  He knows that some of your experiences were difficult and even painful, and you wonder how He could allow them to happen to you if He loves you so much.  But all your experiences, the good and the bad, are meant to prepare you for Home.  Your experiences show you the differences in character between that of your Savior and that of the enemy, Satan.

It is important that you realize that Satan only seeks your destruction, no matter how “good” the things he offers seem to be.  God wants you to have life, and to have it abundantly (John 10:10).  Remember:  not one taint of sin can enter God’s Home, so your loyalty must lie with Him alone.