One of the things that he hammered on in the sermon I listened to yesterday (which was from January) was that religion kills. I understand what he is saying, after all Jesus did have his sharpest words for those steeped in religion. Yet, I don’t think that it is religion that is the problem. It was God who instituted religion for the Israelites. Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy relay to us the precise detail that God expected Israel to use in worship of Him. Religion, at its very heart, is concerned with how we worship God. Religion, like the Law, when used properly can lead us to life, but when abused brings death. That is not to say that Religion or the Law saves, just that their purpose to is lead us to Christ Jesus, and thus to life.
The real issue isn’t Religion, especially one that conforms to God’s desires, but is selfishness. Religion becomes a death sentence when we start making it about us and our “personal relationship” with God rather than the proper worship of the Creator. The Religious leaders of first century Israel, the guys Jesus confronted, would create all these little laws to govern every aspect of society, and then they would find loopholes so they would be exempt. They burden the people with law, but did nothing to ease that burden. Religion kills, not because Religion is inherently evil, but because selfish men and women corrupt it for their own benefit.
James, the half brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, wrote:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 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 (James 1:26-27; ESV).
According to James the problem isn’t religion but it is our motivation. A selfish person will “speak their mind” without concern about who they hurt or how it reflects on God. A selfish person will hoard God’s blessings rather than being generous to those in need. A selfish person will do what he wants to do, even if it leads to sin.
James tells us that there is a good type of religion, a religion that is pure, and that pure religion loves and serves the least of these in this world and it keeps us from being contaminated by the world. It isn’t religion that kills, but it is selfishness that does job. And that is why we need to daily stop and pray, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner,” for approaching God in humility is the first step in stripping ourselves of our selfishness.