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Can You Be Too Religious?

Almost any activity can be taken to an unhealthy and unbalanced extreme. Even things that are good can be turned to bad by extremism. Whether it is business, exercise, diet, education, recreation, or almost any other activity, too much of any good thing may become a bad thing. Therefore, moderation is the wise approach to most areas of life.

What about religion? Is it possible to be too religious? Should we moderate our religious beliefs and activities? If we are overly religious, are we in danger of becoming religious fanatics, zealots, radicals, and extremists? Could we become so religious that we cannot coexist with others in this world?

Before answering these questions, let us be clear about the term religion. There are thousands of religions in the world, but the Bible declares that there is only one system of faith that is valid for pleasing God and obtaining salvation for the soul. It is only by faith in Christ that one can reach God the Father (John 14:6), be saved (Acts 4:12), and have eternal life (John 3:16). The word of God states that there is one faith (one religion) that pleases God (Eph. 4:5; Heb. 11:6; Jude 3), and all other religions are therefore vain (Acts 17:22-31). Because this is true, any measure of vain religion is too much of that religion.

So then, let us focus our attention on the true faith of Christianity. Can a Christian be too religious? Can the way a Christian behaves, speaks, dresses, worships, etc. reflect too much religious conviction to Christ?

For an answer, let us consider Ecclesiastes 7:15-18. These words were written long before the Christian dispensation, but they are still applicable to Christians because they speak in general, timeless terms. Notice that this passage does not directly answer whether a person can be too religious but instead speaks of being too righteous. Righteousness is the essence and goal of true religion, so this passage answers our questions. Now consider this passage:

15I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.

Taken out of context, one could make many false applications from this passage, so let us be careful. The context of this passage (and the whole book) is the futility of life in this world. In this context, verse 15 speaks of the sometimes unjust ends of the righteous and the wicked in the world. Because of this injustice, verses 16 and 17 give some advice concerning moderation.

The message of Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 teaches us the dangers of extremism, but this is not a mandate for compromise. The excessive righteousness and wisdom of verse 15 have to do with unnecessary and thus excessive behaviors or words that may needlessly bring trouble to a righteous man. Consider that a particular act may be righteous in itself, but it may not always be prudent in every setting. For example, confessing Christ with a loud voice is good in the home or the assembly of the church, but it is bound to bring trouble if done from the gallery at a courtroom trial. In such a setting, it is unnecessary and excessive to bring trouble on oneself, for God does not require it. However, if one was on trial for His faith in Christ, then boldly confessing Christ in a court would be necessary because the Lord demands it (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:8-10; 1Pet. 3:14-15). In this case, a bold confession of Christ is not excessive because it does not exceed what God requires, even though it could bring trouble. The message of Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 teaches us to know the difference between righteous words and deeds that meet God's requirements and those that unnecessarily exceed His requirements.

So then, can a Christian be too righteous? Truly, there is no such thing as too much righteousness, for right is always right, and wrong is always wrong. Righteousness is the highest pursuit of a Christian (Matt. 6:33) and the ultimate goal of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16-17). By no means do the Scriptures ever teach us to moderate or balance our righteousness with unrighteousness. However, there is such a thing as righteousness that exceeds God's requirements and invites unnecessary trouble. Even Jesus said, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt. 7:6). The Lord does not require us to be torn to pieces by "the swine,” so let us heed His wisdom and save the fight for a time when it is needed. Therefore, let us be completely righteous in Jesus while also being prudent and judicious in the way we practice our righteousness in this world.

Stacey E. Durham




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