How to Identify the True Religion
LOGICALLY there must be just one true religion. This is in harmony with the fact that the true God is a God, “not of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33) Furthermore, Jesus Christ spoke of those who practice such religion as worshiping God “with spirit and truth,” and truth is never at disagreement with itself.—John 4:23, 24.
But who are these true worshipers today? How can you identify them and know that their worship is indeed the one approved by God?
This cannot be decided simply on the basis of what people and organizations claim to be. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out that many would say to him: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?” Yet he would say to them: “I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.” So being a true worshiper involves more than merely our claims, or even our apparently commendable works. It means actually doing the will of the heavenly Father.—Matt. 7:21-23.
Jesus also said that false prophets would come in sheep’s covering, while inside they would be like devouring wolves. However, he gave us a rule by which we can distinguish between the true servants of God and the false ones, saying: “Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.”—Matt. 7:15-20.
A faithful follower of Jesus, the apostle Paul, also showed the need for caution. He warned that some men would appear to be ministers of righteousness and yet would be false Christians. Outwardly they may not seem bad. But when measured in the light of God’s Word, the Bible, they are shown to be ministers of God’s enemy, Satan, for their works are actually in opposition to God’s will. (2 Cor. 11:13-15) Our following the lead of such false Christians could only result in our losing out on life eternal.
What, then, are some of the identifying marks of true worshipers of God? What are the fine fruits that they would produce?
LOVE AMONG THEMSELVES
The Bible tells us that “God is love.” In harmony with this, Jesus showed that the most outstanding mark of those who follow his example in worshiping God is that they would have love among themselves. He said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—1 John 4:8; John 13:35.
For such love to be truly an identifying mark, it could not be merely a matter of pretending to be nice to one another, could it? It must be love that deeply affects every aspect of one’s daily living. It should influence how one treats the other members of one’s household. It ought to affect one’s attitude toward people of other races and nations. True worshipers of God heed the Scriptural encouragement: “Let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18) They show love by action, not only in word. They seek what is truly in the best interests of others.
Do the religious organizations with which you have been acquainted have this mark of identification? Do they instill in their members a love that is so strong that it remains true even in difficult times? What do they do, for example, when tension between worldly nations leads to war? The facts show that by far the majority of them have been willing for their members to go out on the battlefield and slaughter their fellow believers of another nationality at the command of worldly men.
Do you think such a course is according to God’s Word and really reflects the spirit of God? Do you believe that it is in harmony with Jesus’ command to “continue to love your enemies”? (Matt. 5:44) The Bible is quite clear relative to how true worshipers of God can be distinguished from false worshipers, saying: “The children of God and the children of the Devil are evident by this fact: Everyone who does not carry on righteousness does not originate with God, neither does he who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother.”—1 John 3:10-12.
Yet, as you know, not everyone has followed the course of supporting worldly wars and slaughtering fellow believers in such conflicts. Some have been able to say with the apostle Paul: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage warfare according to what we are in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.” (2 Cor. 10:3, 4) They have not been guilty of living a lie by saying, “I love God,” while hating their brother of another nationality.—1 John 4:20, 21.
Those who truly imitate Jesus, not only refrain from doing harm to others, but also manifest love in other ways. How? By their unity with fellow Christians in all lands, by the way they deal with their neighbors and by their loving efforts to help others to learn about God.—Gal. 6:10.
RESPECT FOR GOD’S WORD
Another mark of true religion and of those who practice it is respect for God’s Word. God’s Son when on earth set the pattern in this by showing the highest respect for the inspired Scriptures. He quoted them as the final authority on matters. He continually referred his hearers to God’s Word, encouraging them to read and apply it.—Matt. 19:4-6; Luke 24:44, 45.
Jesus also showed his deep respect for the Bible by living in accord with its teachings every day. The fulfillment of God’s Word meant more to him than even his own life. (Matt. 26:53-56) Never did he downgrade the Bible; rather, he condemned those who failed to teach in harmony with it and who tried to weaken its force with their own teachings.—Mark 7:9-13.
What can we say in this regard about the many church organizations of Christendom today? When you hear or read statements by clergymen who refer to parts of the Bible as “myths,” or who favor the theory of evolution over the Bible teaching of creation, would you say that they are encouraging respect for God’s Word? Or when you read statements in which such church leaders argue that sex relations outside of marriage are not necessarily wrong, or that even homosexuality can be quite proper, would you say that they are encouraging people to use the Bible as their guide? They certainly are not following the example of God’s Son and his apostles.—Matt. 15:18, 19; Gal. 5:19-21; Rom. 1:24-27.
Do the fruits manifest in the lives of the members of these churches show that they truly respect the Word of God? From your own experience, would you say that most people who go to a church building on Sunday apply Bible principles in their homelife and in their dealings with others on Monday and during the rest of the week?
God’s Word shows that there are persons who may have the Bible and even study it but whose works prove that they disown the God they claim to know. “They publicly declare they know God,” the Bible says, “but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.” (Titus 1:16; John 5:39, 40) The form of worship that they practice is not pleasing to God, because they do not allow his Word to exercise genuine power in their lives.—2 Tim. 3:5.
At first one might reason that it is simply one minister who is wrong or certain church members who do not do right. But what if the minister who downgrades the Bible continues to hold his position? And what if the church members who do wrong continue to be in good standing? Then it is time to face the fact that the bad fruits identify the religious organization itself.
If that is true, you will, without exception, find that the teachings of the organization do not all line up with the Bible. If you are now associating with such a religious organization, the teachings of which are not completely in harmony with God’s Word, then you have a serious problem. It is the problem of making a decision either to accept the truthfulness of the Bible or to reject it in favor of teachings the Bible does not support.
What you do, of course, must be your own decision. However, you should weigh matters carefully, since the decision you make will affect your standing with God and your prospects of eternal life in his new system.
SANCTIFY GOD’S NAME
A further requirement of true religion is that it must sanctify God’s name. Why so? Because when Jesus Christ taught his followers how to pray, he showed them that this should be their first concern. “You must pray, then, this way,” he said: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.”—Matt. 6:9.
This means holding the name of God sacred, treating it as something holy. Jesus himself certainly did this. He did not fail to use his Father’s name, nor did he treat it as unimportant. To the contrary, in prayer to his Father, Jesus said: “I have made your name known to them and will make it known.” (John 17:26) He knew that it is God’s purpose for his name to be glorified in all the earth, and he set the example in proclaiming and honoring that name.—John 12:28; Isa. 12:4, 5.
Also, the Scriptures show that the main purpose for the existence of the congregation that God has called out of the world is to be “a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) If you are to gain salvation, you, too, must know and honor the name of God. That it is vital to publish God’s name so that others can know and call upon Him for salvation is shown clearly by Romans 10:13, 14, which says: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.’ However, how will they call on him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard? How, in turn, will they hear without someone to preach?”
Now, stop and ask yourself: What religious group is most prominently known for publishing the name of God, as Jesus did? The churches in general avoid the use of the name Jehovah; and, though some of them say that they favor the form “Yahweh,” they seldom use that form of God’s name either. Some have even gone to the extent of removing God’s name from their versions of the Bible. For example, the Revised Standard Version, which is now distributed with the backing of both Protestants and Catholics, omits the name Jehovah completely, although it appears in the original Hebrew text nearly seven thousand times.
Are these organizations measuring up to this requirement of true religion? Really, what group does bear witness to the name of God, as did Jesus, who is called in the Bible “the Faithful Witness”? (Rev. 1:5; Isa. 43:10-12) If you were to talk to your neighbors and refer repeatedly to Jehovah, using his sacred name, with what organization do you think they would associate you? That is not a difficult question to answer. There is only one people that notably follow Jesus’ example in this regard.
PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD
True worshipers also proclaim the kingdom of God as man’s true hope. They could not do otherwise and be pleasing to Jehovah God, because he has clearly stated that the Kingdom is his provision for governing the earth. In fact, concerning this very time in which we live the Bible says: “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”—Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14.
Jesus set the example in proclaiming God’s kingdom. He went from one end of the land to the other “preaching and declaring the good news of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 8:1) He and his apostles did this by going from village to village and “from house to house.” (Acts 20:20) Jesus also foretold the following for these “last days”: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:14.
Today we often hear religious leaders speaking on behalf of political organizations such as the United Nations and praying for them. But who are doing the preaching of the good news about God’s kingdom as Jesus foretold? If someone comes to your door or to your neighbor’s door and you hear him talking about God’s kingdom as mankind’s true hope, with what organization do you associate that person? Do the ministers of your religion carry on the ministry in that way? This is a principal activity of those who actually do the will of the heavenly Father in imitation of his Son Jesus.—1 Pet. 2:21.
KEEP SEPARATE FROM THE WORLD
Yet another requirement of true religion is that it keep separate from the world and its affairs. The Bible, at James 1:27, shows that, if our worship is to be clean and undefiled from the standpoint of God, we must keep ourselves “without spot from the world.” This is an important matter, for, “whoever . . . wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.”—Jas. 4:4.
You can appreciate why this is so serious when you remember that God’s Word points out that the ruler of the world is God’s chief adversary, Satan the Devil. (John 12:31) Thus, the apostle John wrote: “We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.”—1 John 5:19.
Do the facts show that the churches in your community take this to heart? Are the clergy, as well as the members of the congregations, really “no part of the world,” as Jesus said that his true followers would be? (John 15:19) Or are they deeply involved in the world’s affairs, in its nationalism, its politics and its class struggles?
You do not need someone else to answer these questions for you. The activities of the churches are widely publicized, and you know what is going on in them. If there are people in your community who, because of their religion, refrain from such activities, you no doubt know who they are too.
IDENTIFYING THE TRUE RELIGION
Now, after reviewing these identifying marks of the true religion that God has provided for us in his Word, what do we conclude? The question at issue is not whether a certain religious group appears to meet one or two of these requirements, nor whether some of its doctrines conform to the Bible. Far more than that, the true religion must measure up in all these respects and its teachings must all be in full harmony with God’s Word. Only in this way can such religion truly be pleasing to Jehovah God.
There are not many religions meeting these requirements laid down in God’s Word. There is just one. As the Bible clearly says: “One body there is, and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith.” (Eph. 4:4, 5) Yes, there is only “one faith,” that is, only one faith that is recognized and approved by Almighty God.
Who, then, are the ones who form the body of true worshipers today? On the basis of the evidence, which is known or available to persons in all parts of the earth, we do not hesitate to say that they are the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. For you to share that conviction, you need to get well acquainted with them. The best way is to attend their meetings at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this way you can observe for yourself how the organization functions and the way in which those associated with it apply God’s Word in their own lives. Since God assures us that practicing true religion brings great contentment now and opens up the way for eternal life in his new system of things, it surely will be worth your while to make such an investigation. (Deut. 30:19, 20) You have our warm invitation to do so. Why not investigate now?