Please explain the differences between God’s religion and man’s religion.
Let’s first define religion. The dictionary defines “religion” as “a particular system of faith and worship,” “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance,” and “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” The New Testament term “religion” is found in Acts 26:5, Colossians 2:18, and James 1:26-27. It is from the Greek word threskeia, defined as religious worship, religious discipline, and external religion (i.e., ceremonial religion). The term “religious” is found only in James 1:26 and comes from the Greek word threskos, meaning to fear or worship God, to tremble, to be trembling or fearful.
When Paul spoke of “religion” (threskeia) in Acts 26:5, he was talking about the religion of Judaism and how he had been part of its strictest sect, the Pharisees. Judaism had originally come from God to Israel, delivered to Moses through angels at Sinai and containing the ordinances of God found in the Law of Moses. It was fulfilled and replaced by the new covenant at Christ’s death (Deut. 5:1ff; Rom. 7:1-6; Gal. 3:19, 23-25; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14; Heb. 8:7-13; 9:15-16). The Pharisees were repeatedly condemned by Jesus for hypocrisy and for adding their man-made traditions to God’s laws in Judaism and making them a higher priority than God’s laws (Matt. 15:1-9; 23:1ff). Thus, Paul was speaking of man’s religion in Acts 26:5.
When Paul spoke of “worship” (threskeia, religion) in Colossians 2:18, he was speaking of the “worship of angels.” This was in the context of warning Christians not to be influenced to go back to the rituals and laws of Judaism (Col. 2:16-17). He was also warning his brethren to avoid being influenced to include in their Christianity the false humility shown by asceticism (severe self-denial), the worship of angels, giving adherence to supposed visions, or unreasonable pride that is the result of a sensuous, worldly mind (Col. 2:18). He also warned them against submitting themselves to ascetic regulations which are actually human precepts and teachings and which have “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but…are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:20-23). Thus, Paul was speaking of man’s religion in Colossians 2:18.
When James spoke of one who seemed to be “religious” (threskos) and having “religion” (threskeia) in James 1:26, he was talking about a person who “thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart.” He went on to describe this person’s “religion” as “worthless.” Thus, James was speaking of man’s religion in James 1:26.
Yet when he spoke of “religion” (threskeia) in James 1:27, he called it “pure and undefiled before God the Father” and defined it as this: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” In the Greek, “to visit” orphans and widows refers to more than a social call; it speaks of continually providing for their needs. Keeping oneself “unstained from the world” cannot happen without being washed clean from sin, initially at baptism and then continually through penitent confession of sins and obedience of God’s will (Acts 22:16; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:7-9). Thus, James is speaking of God’s religion in James 1:27.
To sum up, man’s religion adheres to a religion which is not rightly divided Scripture. It adds one’s own doctrines and traditions to Scripture and/or makes them of higher importance. It inflicts upon oneself and others severe ascetic sacrifices. It encourages the worship of beings other than God such as angels. It gives adherence to visions. It allows pride and worldliness to rule in one’s heart. It is practiced by those who do not make continual effort to watch what they say, thus deceiving themselves into thinking they are what they are not.
Yet those who follow God’s religion are servants who help those in need, putting others’ needs before their own. They are faithful Christians who keep their soul continually clean from sin by penitently and faithfully obeying God’s commands in Scripture.