If you do a Google search about the number of religions in the world, you won’t get an answer. At least not a meaningful one. A brief search indicates anywhere between 4,000 and 11,000 religions. However, over 77 percent of religious adherents can be classified into five major religions. According to the Pew Research Center, Christianity is the largest with 31.11 percent claiming this faith. It is followed by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Christianity is on the decline, and Islam is showing significant gains. If those claiming to be atheists, agnostics, secular, and non-religious adherents were counted as a religion, they would rank as the third largest religion.
All religions have two things in common, according to David Benham. There is a belief and a behavior. The dictionary generically defines belief as an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. Simply put, there is an object to our beliefs. It can be about God, an individual, or any number of organizations, non-animate objects – the list is endless.
If we believe in something, it affects our behavior. I like coffee. One benefit of coffee is my belief that it will wake me up, get me going in the morning. I remember one Christmas morning when I was visiting family. I got up, did the “Christmas thing” and then had a cup of coffee. It didn’t wake me up, it seemed to have no effect on how I felt. As the day wore on, I was dragging. It was then that I discovered that this portion of my family only had decaf. That confirmed my belief that coffee (but not decaf) could wake me up when I was drowsy. So I went out, found a store that was open and bought some real coffee. It worked. So this event reinforced my belief that coffee was good and decaf was bad for my purposes. My behavior of drinking coffee continues to this day.
Behavior is the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others. I act out my beliefs in my behavior. If I am of the Jewish faith, I would likely wear a yarmulke at worship. If my church has certain dress expectations, I would attempt to conform to those expectations. Those are, in part man-made behaviors that may or may not be valid tenets of my faith. But behavior in relation to my religion, specifically the Christian faith, is God-oriented. The Bible is God’s Word, instructing us in God’s expectations for our behavior.
Several years ago, I joined an online dating site. In scrolling through the ladies on the site, I quickly learned that a huge majority of them listed that they were Christian. Upon closer examination, it was often the case that they were (maybe) raised in the Christian faith but were not actively pursuing this faith. Their belief in God had no discernible effect on their behavior.
Christianity is about a relationship. Many are fond of saying “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” This is partially true and a statement that I don’t normally use. Jesus had a lot to say about religion, often citing a lack of true religion. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus chided the religious leaders of His time, saying “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Simply following the rules (laws) does not create a relationship.
When you BELIEVE, and your BEHAVIOR shows a relationship with Christ, you BECOME a follower of Jesus. Your life changes for the better. Acceptance without obedience isn’t acceptance at all. James 2:18-20 reads “But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to acknowledge, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless?” Believing obviously is not enough.
As verse 19 states, demons believe. But their behavior has not changed. Our behavior must follow our beliefs and we become followers. Our lives are changed and we have a relationship to go along with our religion. Works do not save us but are evidence of our faith. Faith without works is useless.
Believe in God, show your belief by your behavior, and you will be become worthy of hearing Jesus’ words “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Do you long to hear those words from our Lord?
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