To them [Gentiles] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Reading only the first 26 verses of Paul's letter to the Colossians, it would appear that faith in Christ is a religion. A religion leads one to say, "My relationship with God is based upon what I do, and not do, and what I believe or not believe." A statement framed thusly is a declaration of religion.
In religion I am independent and free...I can choose my own criteria for faith and behavior...my thoughts are my own...the only things that matter are my action and my attitude. I can compare myself to others by their actions and attitudes, and I can feel superior and justified.
But the moment Paul writes, "...Christ in you...", my religion is shattered. "Christ in you" defines my condition as depending upon Jesus. My relationship with God depends upon the relation between the Father and the Son. Any good thing in me is an expression of the Holy Spirit allowed to express Himself freely.
The glory of my life becomes Christ alone.
The Greek word translated here as "in" means a fixed position. Paul is describing a condition in which Christ becomes rooted, thoroughly present at all times, and immoveable. "Christ in you" is not a push from outside or a soft suggestible influence. "Christ in you" is systemic, it is pervasive and it is the drive behind all the good that you contain and express.
"...[Jesus] knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." (John 2:24-25)
Jesus used the same word for "in" to describe a condition that completely "infected" all humans...the internal composition and motivation that is rooted within. In this reference it is negative, describing the sin nature. Paul's description is positive, describing the "Son" nature of Jesus Christ.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?Is it offensive to you to hear "religion" being mocked or rejected by a non-believer? Is the criticism of religion warranted or defensible? Is there a "little bit of good" in all religions?
RELIGION: WORTHLESS OR PURE?
"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)
The Greek word translated as "religion" is only used a small handful of times in the Bible. "Threskeia" means a ceremonial observance, a demonstration of worship. The word probably developed from "throeo", meaning to cry out or frighten. The English word "throe", as in the "throes of distress", is from an Anglo Saxon word meaning threatening, oppression or suffering.
"Religion" is an outward expression of an inward attitude towards God. It is based upon despair, fear and guilt. Every instance of this Greek word for "religion" in the Bible is negative, except for Jame's definition of pure and undefiled religion. James criticizes worthless religion, yet he encourages pure and undefiled religion. What is the difference?
- Unbridled tongue
- Deceived heart
Pure and undefiled religion:
- Visiting the afflicted (especially orphans and widows)
- Unstained from the world
"Bridle" means "bit-leader", a harness to control the head of a horse. It comes from a word pronounced "chasma", meaning a chasm, a deep canyon or gorge. To be unbridled meant the horse was uncontrolled, wide-mouthed and dangerous.
I demonstrate blatant evidence of worthless religion when I carelessly, unreasonably or unfeelingly speak loudly and dangerously.
- seeks dominion and stature
- demands attention and respect
- competes for control.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?Some religions do not appear to be seeking dominion or attention. Are they "better" or "no better" than a blatantly controlling religion? For example, Hinduism seems to seek for peace and enlightenment. Latter Day Saints appear to value integrity and family. The New Age seems to blend peace, enlightment, beauty and emotion. Avoiding James' criticism of worthless religion as unbridled and deceptive, are there some religions that are worthwhile, if not entirely true?
DECEPTIONTo deceive means to cheat or delude. Worthless religion cheats the truth. It persuades me that I am superior to others. It drives me to make up for shortcomings by controlling others. It brings my heart to despair through unforgiven guilt and inadequate will-power. Deceptive and uncontrolled religion is ceremonial, loud and frightening...it is worthless.
VISITINGTo visit means to inspect, from a word meaning to peer about. It is related to the English words scope and skeptic.
I demonstrate pure and undefiled religion when I closely look at those who are afflicted, especially widows and orphans. Why especially widows and orphans? They lack sufficient support and protection. Widows have lost their husbands...they must obtain their own food and shelter, often in competion with stronger or uncaring people. Orphans have lost their parents: who will feed and clothe them? Who will teach them? Who will hug them and clean them and protect them?
"Visit" means much more than shaking their hand once a week and asking "How are you, today?", barely stopping to smile at them and go on to the next person or opportunity of interest.
"Visit" means to inspect, to peer intently, perhaps even from afar. "Visit" means to identify what is going on, what is needed, what is hoped for. "Visit" means probing questions, not letting the weak get away with "Fine!" or "Okay, I guess", or "Just give me five bucks and I'll be on my way."
"Visit" means risking rejection or offense. It means sacrificing my own time and money. It means looking for the substantial, not the shallow. It means reading between the lines, active listening and street-level action.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?How can we identify people in our church and community who are hurting? How can I help the needy when I barely have time, strength and money to support my own family?
UNSTAINED"Unstained" means to be unblemished physically or morally. It is from a word pronounced spee'-los, meaning a stain or blemish. Our English word "spill" comes from a similar-sounding word, "spillan", meaning to destroy.
A stain destroys our appearance, and in many cases is harmful or disgusting.
How does the world stain us?
"The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell." (James 3:6)
James said that our words have the potential of staining us, destroying us as surely as a raging fire destroys a home. Our words can destroy the entire course of our life and soul.
What forms words? Words alone are just sounds, often represented on paper with small, scribbly marks. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," right? Wrong!
We identify all things with words. Our self-identity and our worth is described and expressed with words. All of life and eternity is communicated and understood through concepts conveyed through words. Words are the most powerful things that exist. How ridiculous and childish to regard words as weak sounds and marks on paper!
Inside our mother's womb we hear words. Our parents surround us with words. Family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, strangers, and enemies define our existence, purpose, future and worth.
A liar comes near, holding a heart-cup full of deception and malice. He stumbles, spilling his cup near you, splashing you with a single, simple half-truth. It stains you, forming part of your life-expression to yourself and others. It becomes a part of a larger concept and you pass it on to your children, family and friends.
A twisted, abusive, flaunting, luring photograph flashes across your screen. Instantly, words flood your mind to describe what you've seen, how it makes you feel and what you should yearn for. You accept the mind-stain as "in one ear, out the other", but it remains, affecting what you think when you see your children, your partner or a friend.
A television or video portrays an situation in which a half-truth brings comfort or resolution. Or perhaps it twists the truth to express anger or malice or ignorance. The scene remains in your mind, woven with words that strengthen your natural bias toward superiority and control.
The stain of half-truths spreads. The subtle rhetoric, the sly rumor, the slanderous representation directs our emotions and intellect, leading me to speak, to write, to teach, to vote and decide with the stinking, puking and disgusting odor of hidden stains...worthless religion.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?Stains are unavoidable...we're fallible humans, surrounded by each other, riding a sea of unforeseen contacts and circumstances. What can we do? How does pure and undefiled religion avoid stains of half-truths and deception?
CHRIST IN YOU: A CLEANSING FOUNTAIN
"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38)
Since stains are such a good illustration of sin, how do we deal with them?: the baby spit-up, the spaghetti sauce drip, the perspiration, blood and tears? We usually have at least four different ways of dealing with stains:
- WEAR STAIN-RESISTANT CLOTHING
- USE A NAPKIN
- WASH UP AFTER EATING AND WORKING
- DEAL WITH STAINS IMMEDIATELY
How can we spiritually wear stain-resistant clothing?
"Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil...the belt of truth...the breastplate of righteousness...shoes of the gospel of peace...shield of faith...helmet of salvation...and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit..." (Ephesians 6:11-18)
God provides truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation...all communicated by his Spirit through his written word: The Bible. The more we fill our minds with his words, the more resistant to sin-stain we become.
How can we use a spiritual napkin?
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
Look to Jesus to wipe away our sin-stain. Whether tears or pain, embarrassment or addiction, look to Jesus. Keep his death and resurrection as close to you as a napkin, ready at hand to grab and apply to the stain. The very moment a half-truth or devil-accusation splashes against your mind, grab hold of the death and resurrection of Jesus as completely sufficient to wipe away the shame and guilt.
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!" (Romans 8:1)
How can we spiritually wash up after eating or working?
"Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:22)
Isn't it sad that our first response to our own sin is shame, hiding away from the only One Who can cleanse the stain? Adam and Eve's first response to their sin was to hid themselves from the presence of God. They said they were afraid because they were naked.
The death and resurrection of Jesus restores our relationship with God...we can be spiritually open to God, spiritually naked, without shame.
Water is scientifically described as a solvent, and because it dissolves so many elements, it is knows as the "universal solvent". The cleansing power of Jesus is truly universal and eternal.
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)
How can we immediately deal with spiritual sins?
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
Confess means to assent or acknowledge. Literally it means "say the same". It developed from a word meaning "at the same place or time". Confession therefore, implies immediate agreement with God's convicting Spirit: I have sinned against You. Without confession, how can we experience forgiveness. If I'm like the unrepentant criminal hanging on the cross next to Jesus, refusing to admit doing wrong, how can the blood of Jesus do anything for my sin?
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weighteir matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness...Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence...Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:23-27)
Jesus condemned religious people for their lack of confession. They sought only outward, public honor, refusing to admit personal need of forgiveness...their religion was worthless.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?Why is confession of sin to God so hard? Why do we often debate in our minds, justifying a recent action, only to finally give in hours or days later to being broken by our sin?
How refreshing to hear Paul's words: Christ in me becomes my hope of glory!
GLORYGlory in the Greek is doxa, meaning praise, honor or distinction...in other words, glory. It comes from a word meaning very apparent.
Paul mentions two aspects of God's glory: riches and hope. Riches means wealth, a fulness of money or possessions. Hope means expectation, to anticipate with pleasure.
Christ in me is the richness of praise and honor that I can confidently expect to experience from God. Jesus taught that the poor, down-trodden and sorrowful ones who have Christ in them will be blessed beyond measure:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall recieve mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3-10)
In Christ AloneKeith Getty & Stuart Townend
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease!
My Comforter my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand
In Christ alone! - who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This Gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid:
Here in the death of Christ I live
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till he returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand!