What Is Involved in True Religious Life?
Imagine a secret atheist who observes religious requirements to please his parents. They might be satisfied, but not Allah, who is all-knowing. He demands sincerity. A prosperous businessman, though outwardly religious, cleverly cheats his clients. He never gets caught, and people praise him for his religiosity. That might pass in society, but not before Allah. He demands purity. Finally, another man believes in Allah and carefully observes all the laws, rules, and requirements. His religion constrains him to treat people fairly, which he does. But deep down, the man is proud in heart and feels contempt for others. People praise him, but not Allah. He demands humility.
With a bit of effort, people can keep religious requirements. But to truly honor Allah requires far more. Many claim the following five points, principles or pillars are central to true religion: 1) belief, 2) worship, 3) charitable giving, 4) fasting, and 5) pilgrimage. The Holy Scriptures strongly affirm these five points, but to them they add some interesting and provocative twists.
Religions generally have a creed—an abbreviated set of accepted beliefs. The teachings of the Holy Scriptures center on Isa al-Masih, about whom they say a great deal. One short, poetic form states things this way:
“He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16, NIV)
Another place says this:
Remember this: You were bought out of the dead-end life you inherited from your ancestors. But that was not accomplished with mere transitory things such as silver or gold. No, you were rescued by the precious blood of al-Masih, he who was like a perfect, unblemished lamb. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Prayer five, ten, or even twenty times a day is not enough for Allah. He wants our entire lives. As he told Prophet Ibrahim:
“Walk before me faithfully and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1)
The Injil tells us to:
Always rejoice. Never stop praying. In every moment be thankful. That is God's will in Isa al-Masih for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Our hearts and lives, therefore, should be filled with worship every minute of every day. Allah doesn't need our worship. It is we who need to worship him. Without it, even if we claim to follow the truth, we will inevitably turn to the false gods of wealth, power, fame or pleasure.
Isa said some shocking things, and this is one of them:
“Whoever comes to me without hating their father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even their own life, cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their own cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple. … unless you give up everything you have, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, 27, 33)
At the very least Isa means that nothing comes before Allah; everything we possess is subject to his rule. Giving to those in need is a natural result, a mere part of an entire life owned by our Lord and Master.
Isa al-Masih called his followers to fast (Matthew 9:14-15). Sadly, many of them today do little of it and could take an example from other religions. But beyond mere periodic fasting from food or drink, Isa demands an entire life of fasting from ego and self. He said this about himself:
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38, NIV)
For that reason, he told his disciples something similar:
“Kings rule over the nations, and people with authority call themselves benefactors. But you must be different. The greatest among you should consider themselves the youngest, and the leaders, servants. Who is more important, a person at the table, or a servant? The one at the table, right? But I'm here with you as a servant.” (Luke 22:25-27)
Isa also said,
“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
The Injil records an incident where, as Isa and his disciples were walking to another town, someone came up to Isa and said:
… “I'll follow you wherever you go.” But Isa warned, “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58)
Isa taught that our entire life on earth is one of pilgrimage. The only true holy place is heaven, the throne room of Allah. Mature believers admit that on earth they are:
… but migrants and exiles. People who say such things reveal their desire for a homeland. Now, if they were thinking of a place they had left, they could have simply returned to it. But they longed for something better—heaven itself. Therefore Allah is not ashamed to be known as their God, and for them he's prepared a city …. (Hebrews 11:13-16)