Practicing Pure Religion for Survival
“Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as . . . keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.”—JAMES 1:27, Phillips.
1. How has religion been defined, and who logically has the right to determine the difference between false religion and true?
RELIGION has been defined as “the expression of man’s belief in and reverence for a superhuman power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe.” Who, then, logically has the right to determine the difference between true religion and false religion? Surely it must be the One believed in and reverenced, the Creator. Jehovah has clearly outlined in his Word his position on true religion and false.
The Word “Religion” in the Bible
2. How do dictionaries explain the original Greek word translated “form of worship” or “religion,” and to what kinds of worship can it be applied?
2 The Greek word translated “form of worship,” or “religion,” is thre·skeiʹa. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines this word as “the worship of God, religion, esp[ecially] as it expresses itself in religious service or cult.” The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament provides further details, stating: “The etymology is disputed; . . . modern scholars favor a link with therap- (‘to serve’). . . . Distinction of meaning may also be noted. The good sense is ‘religious zeal’ . . . , ‘worship of God,’ ‘religion.’ . . . But there is also a bad sense, i.e., ‘religious excess,’ ‘wrong worship.’” Thus, thre·skeiʹa may be translated either “religion” or “form of worship,” good or bad.
3. How did the apostle Paul use the word translated “form of worship,” and what interesting comment is made on the translation of Colossians 2:18?
3 This word appears only four times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The apostle Paul used it twice to designate false religion. At Acts 26:5, he is recorded as stating that prior to becoming a Christian, “according to the strictest sect of our form of worship [“religion,” Phillips] I lived a Pharisee.” In his letter to the Colossians, he warned: “Let no man deprive you of the prize who takes delight in a mock humility and a form of worship of the angels.” (Colossians 2:18) Such angel worship was apparently prevalent in Phrygia in those days, but it was a form of false religion.a Interestingly, whereas some Bible translations render thre·skeiʹa “religion,” at Colossians 2:18 most use the word “worship.” The New World Translation consistently translates thre·skeiʹa “form of worship,” a footnote in the Reference Bible mentioning each time the alternative translation “religion” is used in the Latin versions.
“Clean and Undefiled” From God’s Standpoint
4, 5. (a) According to James, whose position on religion is the most important? (b) What could make a person’s form of worship futile, and what is meant by the word translated “futile”?
4 The other two occurrences of the word thre·skeiʹa are in the letter written by the disciple James, a member of the governing body of the first-century Christian congregation. He wrote: “If any man seems to himself to be a formal worshiper [“to be ‘religious,’” Phillips] and yet does not bridle his tongue, but goes on deceiving his own heart, this man’s form of worship [“religion,” Phillips] is futile. The form of worship [“religion,” Phillips] that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.”—James 1:26, 27.
5 Yes, observing Jehovah’s position on religion is vital if we want to have his approval and survive into the new world he has promised. (2 Peter 3:13) James shows that a person might seem to himself to be truly religious and yet his form of worship could be futile. The Greek word here translated “futile” also means “idle, empty, fruitless, useless, powerless, lacking truth.” This could be the case if someone claiming to be a Christian did not bridle his tongue and use it to praise God and to build up his fellow Christians. He would be “deceiving his own heart” and not be practicing “religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God.” (Phillips) It is Jehovah’s viewpoint that counts.
6. (a) What is the theme of the letter by James? (b) What requisite for pure worship did James emphasize, and what has the modern-day Governing Body stated in this regard?
6 James does not enumerate all the things that Jehovah requires in connection with pure worship. In line with the general theme of his letter, which is faith proved by works and the need to keep free from friendship with Satan’s world, he highlights just two requirements. One is “to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation.” This involves true Christian love. Jehovah has always shown loving concern for orphans and widows. (Deuteronomy 10:17, 18; Malachi 3:5) One of the initial acts of the first-century governing body of the Christian congregation was in behalf of Christian widows. (Acts 6:1-6) The apostle Paul gave detailed instructions for providing loving care for destitute elderly widows who had proved themselves faithful over the years and who had no family to help them. (1 Timothy 5:3-16) The modern-day Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has likewise issued precise instructions on “Caring for the Poor,” stating: “True worship involves looking after faithful and loyal ones who may be in need of material assistance.” (See the book Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry, pages 122-3.) Bodies of elders or individual Christians who show themselves negligent in this respect are omitting an important aspect of the form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father.
“Without Spot From the World”
7, 8. (a) What second requisite for true religion did James mention? (b) Do the clergy and priests meet this requirement? (c) What can be said of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
7 The second requisite for true religion mentioned by James was “to keep oneself without spot from the world.” Jesus stated: “My kingdom is no part of this world”; consistently, his true followers would be “no part of the world.” (John 15:19; 18:36) Can this be said of the clergy and priests of any of this world’s religions? They endorse the United Nations. Many of their leaders accepted the pope’s invitation to meet in Assisi, Italy, in October 1986 to unite their prayers for the success of the UN-sponsored “International Year of Peace.” However, their efforts were in vain, judging by the millions killed in the wars of that year and in the years since. The clergy often hobnob with the ruling political party, while treacherously making secret deals with the opposition so that whoever rules will view them as “friends.”—James 4:4.
8 Jehovah’s Witnesses have made a reputation for themselves as Christians who remain neutral in political affairs and in the conflicts of this world. They maintain this stance on all continents and in all nations, as attested to by press reports and modern historical records in all parts of the world. They are truly “without spot from the world.” Theirs is the “religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God.”—James 1:27, Phillips.
Other Marks of True Religion
9. What is a third requirement for true religion, and why?
9 If religion is “reverence for a superhuman power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe,” surely the true religion must direct worship to the only true God, Jehovah. It must not becloud people’s understanding of God by teaching such pagan concepts as a triune god in which the Father shares his almightiness, glory, and eternity with two other persons in a mysterious Trinity. (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6) It must also make known God’s matchless name, Jehovah, and honor that name, indeed bear God’s name as an organized people. (Psalm 83:18; Acts 15:14) In this its practicers must follow the example of Christ Jesus. (John 17:6) What people today meet this requirement other than the Christian Witnesses of Jehovah?
10. For a religion to offer survival into God’s new world, what must it do, and why?
10 The apostle Peter stated: “Furthermore, there is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name [Jesus Christ] under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” (Acts 4:8-12) Pure religion that will offer survival into God’s new world must, therefore, inspire faith in Christ and in the value of the ransom sacrifice. (John 3:16, 36; 17:3; Ephesians 1:7) Moreover, it must help true worshipers to submit to Christ as Jehovah’s reigning King and anointed High Priest.—Psalm 2:6-8; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 4:14, 15.
11. Upon what must true religion be based, and what is the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses in this regard?
11 Pure religion must be based on the revealed will of the one true God and not on man-made traditions or philosophies. We would know nothing of Jehovah and his wonderful purposes, nor of Jesus and the ransom sacrifice, were it not for the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses instill in people unshakable confidence in the Bible. They also prove by their daily living that they agree with the apostle Paul’s statement: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, . . . that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
The True Religion—A Way of Life
12. In addition to faith, what is necessary for worship to be true, and in what respects is true religion a way of life?
12 Jesus declared: “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) The true religion, or form of worship, is not, therefore, a ceremonial, ritualistic, outward display of godliness. Pure worship is spiritual, based on faith. (Hebrews 11:6) That faith must, however, be backed up by works. (James 2:17) True religion rejects popular trends. It adheres to the Bible’s standards of morality and clean speech. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Ephesians 5:3-5) Its practicers sincerely endeavor to produce the fruitage of God’s spirit in their family life, at their secular work, in school, and even in their recreation. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Jehovah’s Witnesses try never to forget the apostle Paul’s counsel: “Therefore, whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Their religion is not mere formalism; it is a way of life.
13. What does true worship involve, and why can it be said that Jehovah’s Witnesses are truly religious people?
13 Of course, true religion involves spiritual activities. These include personal and family prayer, the regular study of God’s Word and Bible study helps, and attending true Christian congregation meetings. These latter are opened and closed with songs of praise to Jehovah and with prayers. (Matthew 26:30; Ephesians 5:19) Upbuilding spiritual subjects are examined by means of discourses and question-and-answer discussions of printed material available to all. Such meetings are usually held in tidy but not ornate Kingdom Halls, which are used exclusively for religious purposes: regular meetings, weddings, memorial services. Jehovah’s Witnesses respect their Kingdom Halls and larger Assembly Halls as places dedicated to Jehovah’s worship. Unlike many churches of Christendom, Kingdom Halls are not social clubs.
14. What did worship mean to Hebrew-speaking people, and what activity distinguishes Jehovah’s Witnesses today?
14 We saw earlier that scholars link the Greek word translated “form of worship” or “religion” with the verb “to serve.” Interestingly, the Hebrew equivalent, ‛avo·dhahʹ, can be translated “service” or “worship.” (Compare the footnotes on Exodus 3:12 and Ex 10:26.) To Hebrews, worship meant service. And this is what it means to true worshipers today. A very important, distinctive mark of true religion is that all who practice it share in the godly service of preaching “this good news of the kingdom . . . in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:8; 5:42) What religion is known worldwide for its public witnessing to God’s Kingdom as mankind’s only hope?
A Positive, Unifying Force
15. What is an outstanding characteristic of true religion?
15 False religion divides. It has caused, and is still causing, hatred and bloodshed. On the contrary, true religion unites. Jesus stated: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) The love that unites Jehovah’s Witnesses transcends the national, social, economic, and racial boundaries that divide the rest of humankind. The Witnesses are “standing firm in one spirit, with one soul striving side by side for the faith of the good news.”—Philippians 1:27.
16. (a) What “good news” do Jehovah’s Witnesses preach? (b) What prophecies are being fulfilled upon Jehovah’s people, and what blessings have followed?
16 The “good news” that they preach is that shortly God’s immutable purpose will be accomplished. His will is going to be carried out, “as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:10) Jehovah’s glorious name will be sanctified, and the earth will become a paradise, where true worshipers will be able to live forever. (Psalm 37:29) Literally millions of people in all lands are associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses, saying, in fulfillment of Bible prophecy: “We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people.” (Zechariah 8:23) Jehovah is blessing his people. “The small one” has truly become “a mighty nation,” a worldwide congregation completely united in every respect—in thought, in work, in worship. (Isaiah 60:22) This is something false religion has never been able to accomplish.
The Triumph of Pure Religion
17. What is in store for Babylon the Great, and how will this be brought about?
17 God’s Word has foretold the destruction of the world empire of false religion, symbolically named “Babylon the Great.” The Bible also represents the “kings,” or political rulers, of the earth by the symbol of the horns of a wild beast. It tells us that God will put into the hearts of these rulers the purpose to overturn and completely destroy this harlotlike institution of Satan the Devil.—See Revelation 17:1, 2, 5, 6, 12, 13, 15-18.b
18. What important reason does the Bible give for destroying Babylon the Great, and when did false religion start in this appalling course?
18 Why does Babylon the Great deserve destruction? The Bible answers: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of holy ones and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.” (Revelation 18:24) Showing that this bloodguilt incurred by false religion goes back even beyond the founding of Babylon, Jesus condemned the religious leaders of Judaism, which had attached itself to Babylon the Great, when he said: “Serpents, offspring of vipers, how are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna? . . . There [will] come upon you all the righteous blood spilled on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel.” (Matthew 23:33-35) Yes, false religion, which began on earth at the time of the rebellion in Eden, must answer for its appalling bloodguilt.
19, 20. (a) What will true worshipers do after judgment has been executed upon Babylon the Great? (b) What will then occur, and what prospect will open up before all true worshipers?
19 After the destruction of Babylon the Great, true worshipers on earth will join their voices with the heavenly choir that sings out: “Praise Jah, you people! . . . For he has executed judgment upon the great harlot . . . , and he has avenged the blood of his slaves at her hand. . . . And the smoke from her goes on ascending forever and ever.”—Revelation 19:1-3.
20 Then the other component parts of Satan’s visible organization will be destroyed. (Revelation 19:17-21) After this, Satan, the founder of all false religion, and his demons will be abyssed. No longer will they be free to persecute true worshipers of Jehovah. (Revelation 20:1-3) Pure religion will have triumphed over the false. Faithful men and women who heed the divine warning to flee now from Babylon the Great will have the opportunity to survive and enter into God’s new world. There, they will be able to practice true religion and worshipfully serve Jehovah forever.
a For an explanation of the angel worship mentioned at Colossians 2:18, see The Watchtower, July 15, 1985, pages 12-13.
b For a full explanation of this prophecy, see the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand! published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., chapters 33-6.
Test Your Memory
◻ Whose position on religion is the most important, and why?
◻ What two requisites for true religion did James emphasize?
◻ What are other requirements for pure worship?
◻ What “good news” are Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching?
◻ How will true religion triumph over false religion?
[Picture on page 17]
Religious leaders assembled in Assisi, Italy, in October 1986
[Picture on page 19]
True religion involves meeting together for worship