Faithful or religious?

re·li·gious adjective \ri-ˈli-jəs\

: of or relating to religion

: believing in a god or a group of gods and following the rules of a religion

: very careful to do something whenever it can or should be done

faith·ful adjective \ˈfāth-fəl\

: having or showing true and constant support or loyalty

: deserving trust : keeping your promises or doing what you are supposed to do

Earlier today someone posted the question to me as to whether it is better to be faithful or religious, or if they were in fact the same thing.

My knee-jerk answer is absolutely it’s better to be faithful, and no, these two are not synonyms despite many seeming to use them as such.

Of course, I will explain.

Oh, love the Lord, all you His saints! For the Lord preserves the faithful, And fully repays the proud person.  Psalm 31:23

Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.  1 Corinthians 4:2

There are over 130 uses of the word “faithful” within the Bible.  Most, as expected, refer to the faithfulness of God to His people and in keeping His word.  The remaining uses of the word refer to those that are found to lack faithfulness and therefore require chastening from the Lord, or those that are found faithful to reward.

His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’  Matthew 25:21

Conversely, if you search for uses of the word “religious” within the Bible, you will come up with a whopping four uses.  Two if theses that came up in my search are not even Scriptures but rather, headers that were added within the chapters for ease of use and reference.  That leaves a mere two verses!  The first one is in Acts 17 where Paul is addressing the Athenians to share the Gospel, stating that he knows them to be religious in all things.  The second drives home the difference between faithfulness and religion though:

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless  James 1:26

That verse alone is pretty clear.  But when one takes a step back to look at the verse before, it becomes even clearer:

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.  James 1:25

So we’re admonished to “continue in” and to be “a doer of the work.”  Sounds like that could just as easily be translated as “be faithful” if you ask me.  Followed by a warning not to rely on being religious.

So why’s being religious a bad thing?

While it is now recognized as a word that refers to things pertaining to a system of beliefs and of faith, but one cannot overlook the fact that it also refers to a methodical system for doing something; a ritual if you will.

Before I go further, let’s take a look at the word used in Acts 17:22 in the original Greek.

δεισιδαίμων at best is pious or religious, at worst, superstitious.

I am religious about my morning consumption of coffee.  If I do not consume adequate amounts, I find it hard to type straight at times, and type much slower than normal.  This can border on a superstition in that it is my belief that coffee helps me communicate better earlier in the morning.  The thing with superstitions is that they are beliefs held by people which are not necessarily based on fact.  I can assert to my coffee consumption being a religious action/ superstition because I know there have been many times where I did not consume caffeine in the morning and yet, was able to type and communicate just as normal.

Yet on the other hand, I strive to be faithful in my attendance at church, my daily reading of the Bible and in prayer.  Rather than just following a hollow routine, it takes effort to be consistently faithful.  It’s a conscious decision.

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  Luke 9:23

It’s a daily choice that you must make when you wake up.  Are you going to go through the day, filling it with motions that in the end are meaningless, or are you going to chose to stand for something more?

Matthew West: The Motions

CPB