Big Idea of the Series: This four-week sermon series wrestles with the common statement: “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” Christianity, by default, is a religion in the common definition of the word. The answer, then, seems to be less about losing our religion than finding a pure one. The aim of this series is to explore what it means to have a pure and un-defiled religion by considering elements like our motives for religious activities, obedience, humility, hypocrisy, and authentic community.
Text: James 1:19-27
Big Idea of the Message: Religion is worthless unless it is accompanied by holy living as a result of loving God. There is a religion, a system of belief and practice, which is pure in God’s eyes: believing His Word and obeying it.
Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
- Christians are known for saying, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” Yet, Christianity is a set of beliefs and practices; therefore, it is a religion. Perhaps more accurately, Christians want to emphasize the way Christianity is unique from other world religions in that it is based on a personal relationship with God by His grace through faith in Jesus. The following chart from a secular source compares many of the world’s religions in a simple way: http://www.religionfacts.com/big-religion-chart
- James likens our tendency to hear God’s Word without obeying it to looking in a mirror and forgetting what we look like. In other words, it’s ridiculous.
- In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” A love relationship with God through Jesus is not only necessary for holy living, but also the first step in obeying God. Right living is a fruit; relationship with Jesus is the root. One might also put it this way: if you have an obedience problem, you really have a relationship problem.
- Twice in this passage, James warns us against self-deception, that is, thinking of ourselves as religious but not actually living the way God wants us to (see vv. 22, 26). One way we may deceive ourselves is to think religious activities like reading the Bible and praying are the measure of godliness. Yet James tells us clearly there are two tests for knowing if our religious activity is worthless or valuable: 1) what comes out of our mouths and 2) our care for others who can’t give us anything in return (Jesus called them “the least of these”). You might conduct a simple litmus test experiment to illustrate this idea. Using clean cups, put distilled water in one cup and water plus clear vinegar in another. Test them with litmus test strips. The glasses may look the same, but only one will taste refreshing! Only one will clearly be proven by the litmus test to be neutral. In the same way, our mouths and our care for the helpless clearly indicate whether our lives are “pure religion” (v. 27) like pure water or “defiled” like gross vinegar water.
- How can we obey God’s Word unless we know what it says? I encourage you to participate in a daily reading plan that is simple and easy to follow.
James 1:19-27 Amplified Bible ® (AMP)
19 Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; 20 for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. 21 So get rid of all uncleanness and all that remains of wickedness, and with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth]. 23 For if anyone only listens to the word without obeying it, he is like a man who looks very carefully at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he immediately forgets what he looked like. 25 But he who looks carefully into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and faithfully abides by it, not having become a [careless] listener who forgets but an active doer [who obeys], he will be blessed and favored by God in what he does [in his life of obedience]. 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless [futile, barren]. 27 Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.
- What is one thing that stood out to you from this week’s message?
- What do you think of when you hear the word “religion?”
- What is the kind of pure religion that the Bible describes?
- What’s one thing you do to keep yourself from becoming someone who talks about religion, but shows none of the grace and love that should go along with it?
- How can you make more of an effort to read the Bible these next couple of weeks?
- How can I pray for you?
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P.S. I look forward to Seeing you inside the next weeks Sermon
Text: Matthew 23:1-36
Topics: Hypocrisy, Humility
Big Idea of the Message: Jesus rebukes religion done merely for the sake of appearance. Pure religion serves God and others out of humility.