We may think that because we're spiritual that we're right with God.
We may think that because we are part of a church, we're right with God.
Both seem to be popular approaches to feeling good about ourselves depending on the circles we are in.
We post "praying" on Facebook at the appropriate times. We read popular spiritual or Christian books. We tell our hurting friend that we will pray for them. We read our Bible. Whatever it is that we do to think we're right with God may just be a placebo.
A placebo "is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient." It's given because some people get better just from the thought of being treated. It's fake. It's not real.
And we fill our spiritual lives with so many placebos.
James wrote, "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless" (James 1:26 ESV). Talking religion can make people think that they are religious. The right answers. Impeccable theology or witty spiritual guidance. James recognized the danger in words. It can lead to a worthless religion. Just talking, even though it may make us feel like we have done something, is not religion. The focus of James' letter was to emphasize that having the right beliefs or saying the right things is no substitute for actually living out true religion.
When we think that we're right with God, yet it is not leading us to love the lease of these, we're just taking a spiritual placebo. It may make us feel good, but it is not true religion.
James continued, "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 1:27 ESV). To visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep unstained from the world. True religion is living the life that we read or hear about. True religion is truly helping rather than just saying that we will pray in passing. True religion is living out what we read in the Bible and not just memorizing it. It's about living the sermons we hear rather than just listening to and critiquing them. It's keeping ourselves free from the chains of this world that will bind us, so that we can love the way God wants us to love.
Our times spent together as a church and learning together are important. That is not to be discarded in our search for true religion. For those outside of a flawed yet reclaimed community, it is something to be part of. True spirituality is not found outside of relationships with God and other sojourners. Without authentic relationships where we learn together, we will not know the direction God wants us to go. But we always must remember that talk is not the goal. Knowledge is not the goal. Attendance is not the goal.
God has a different plan for humanity. When we are in touch with Him, our hearts hunger for that reality. We know it is there. We know things aren't supposed to be this way. We can see something greater than what we are experiencing. Glimpses grow greater.
Jesus wants us to love like He loves. He doesn't need a bunch of people being spiritual or going through the religious motions. If our hearts aren't breaking when we see injustice around us or when we see suffering - if our hearts are calloused to the pain around us or we have developed excuses to just let people suffer, then Jesus is asking us, whether we profess that we are already Christians or not - Jesus is asking us to follow Him. To bring His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. His kingdom. His love. May we learn to follow Jesus. May we learn to love sacrificially and completely. God, help us.