Around eight years ago, God sent me down a path of discovering the difference between Jesus and religion. I learned that the two are worlds apart. I grew up in religion, but grace and love were what changed my heart and consequently, my life.
I would share with people about what I was discovering... that the more of my religion I lost, the more of Christ I seemed to gain. It was the most wonderful trade off I have ever experienced; costly, but incredibly worth it. As I leftreligion behind it became clear that many people I knew and loved not only wanted to stay in the box we had created, but would quickly condemn someone else for leaving it, even though the fruit of my life was more joy, more love, and more miracles.
I wanted others to experience the kind of unconditional love that I was experiencing. When I tried to explain to them that "religion" wasn't God's best for us, they would quote James 1:27 to me, "Pure and undefiled religion is this; to visit the fatherless and widowed..."
The word in the greek that we translate in that verse as "religion" means "external disciplines, primarily ceremonial observances". In other words, when James uses the word religion he is not referring to something that has anything to do with relationship with God. Essentially James is saying, "Hey, if you are going to define your Christianity by your external ceremonial traditions, fine. But at least let those traditions be something that matters. Instead of doing something that externally shows everyone how "spiritual" you are, how about you just go love on the orphan and the widow? That would be the purest form of religion, because it is selfless."
See, James is saying that the *best* we can achieve in religion is loving the orphan and the widow. That is wonderful, but the full extent of religion... it is limited to external acts and lacks real communion with God. On the other hand, when in relationship with Christ we immediately arrive at the apex of value, worth, and relational connection with God....we are His bride. Plus we still get to love the widow and orphan.
In religion we try to qualify ourselves by our righteous acts, but in Christ we are qualified by His righteous acts.