Some of the rituals that are part of religion have been handed down by God. This is especially true with Judaism. The books of Exodus and Leviticus contain the rules and regulations of how Israel was to relate to God. A person cannot help but notice as they read through these books that God was very specific on how things should be done.
Some of these rituals that make up religion are the result of tradition and are the product of human ideas of what should be done in order to relate to God. They have little or no Scriptural base, but they are accepted because that is how things have been done.
As a person who follows Jesus I recognize that most of the laws and rituals handed down by God to the Israelites applied specifically to Israel as they tried to be God’s holy people. So I don’t offer sacrifices or keep the Sabbath, instead I trust in Jesus’ sacrifice and weekly observe the Lord’s Supper. I also recognize the benefit of some traditions as well such as the celebration of Christmas and church buildings. Our traditions have a place in our worship of, and thus our relationship with, God.
Besides helping us relate to God, religion has another purpose for our lives. That purpose is to help us change. I can’t speak for other religions, but the purpose of Christianity, those rituals and traditions that we do, aren’t just to help us to relate to God but also to help us become the person God created us to be. Read what James had to say about religion:
If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:26-27; NLT).
James spent much of the first chapter of his book talking about how trials, God’s wisdom, and God’s Word are needed to help us become the people God created us to be, because sin has corrupted us. What James points out in these two verses is the truth that going through the motions of religion, doing the rituals and the traditions, is not the same thing as changing. If we can’t learn self-control, if we can’t have compassion for the needy, and if we cannot remain pure in this sinful world than our religion is worthless.
The only way religion has any effect on us, this is also true for trials and God’s Word, is if we first commit ourselves to being faithful. Faith, our choice to commit and trust God, is what makes the difference. Without faith religion is just empty rituals and traditions. Without faith the trials and tragedies of life serve no purpose. Without faith God’s wisdom, which is found in His Word, is nothing more than a nice way to live.
Faith, our trust in God, is what makes all the difference. God cannot change our lives, cannot restore us to true life, until we trust Him. So in the end it isn’t about being a religious person, but it is about being a faithful person. Two questions we have to consider are: Who am I faithful to? Will I trust Him with my life? If the answers aren’t Jesus and yes, our religion just might be worthless.