A favorite verse of those who shun all works as religion and therefore evil is Galations 5:1, "it was for freedom that Christ has set us free; therefore keep standing strong and don't be subject again to the yoke of slavery." Well we have to ask the question, what is freedom? "For freedom" implies that there was something that the yoke of slavery was keeping us from.
One reason that I love the Word of God is that it is living and active. (hmmmm....even the Holy Ghost works!) Anyway, when you read, the Spirit of God will cause you to ask questions. And then after you have sat and pondered what the answer to that question might be, He takes you a few verses more and answers them. If you go on to verse 13 of this same passage, Paul admonishes them to not return to slavery but to remain in the freedom that they obtained through the cross and serve...yes I said serve...one another. Hmmm...when we serve, we are actively doing something...works!
In his book "Abide in Christ," Andrew Murray devotes one whole chapter to obeying the commandments of God. He says " When the sinner, in coming to Christ, seeks to prepare Himself by works, the voice of the Gospel sounds "not of works." The Gospel lifts it's voice as loud "created in Christ unto good works" (Eph 2:9-10). To the sinner out of Christ, works may be his greatest hindrance, keeping him from union with the Savior. To the believer in Christ, works are strength and blessing, for by them faith is made perfect. (Jas 2:22), the union with Christ is cemented, and the soul is established and more deeply rooted in the love of God." it occurred to me that Christ, by His own admission, came to serve, not to be served. So if we are one with Christ in heart and mind, then our natural inclination will be to do the same-to serve God and others. Service implies working-we're doing something. That's sort of a no-brainer to me.
Murray goes on to say "to the ignorant or slothful believer there is a great difference between the promises and the commands of scripture. the former he counts his comfort and his food; but to him who is really seeking to abide in Christ's love, the commands become no less precious." He also made the point that Christ Himself abode in the Father's love through his good works.
But what about when obedience to God is hard or uncomfortable or just don't seem "fun?" Well to the modern way of thinking, then doing them is "works" and therefore evil and bad or "religious". (Did you know that Jesus never spoke badly about true religion in scripture? In fact he even commended the religious leaders of his day for keeping the tradition of religion. Religion was never an evil word in the Bible. That is a more recent development-an ideal that anything traditional, regulated or repetitive is bad.) So if abstaining from alcohol causes you to be looked down upon by your peers, then it's works. If spending an hour in prayer is hard on your knees, then certainly that could not be of God. It must be works. If you have found a soul mate who happens to be someone other than your spouse, then you have no obligation to remain true to that relationship because that is works. If you choose not to neglect the gathering together with God's people on a Sunday morning even though you really don't feel like going, then that is works. NO! That is obedience! And let's face it, obedience is not always pleasant. It requires work!
In any relationship, there are rules that must be followed or that relationship will break down and eventually cease to exist. And on the days when those rules impose upon what your fleshly desires are saying to you, then we must but remember whose rules they are and why they have been established as guideposts in our lives. That is not evil, that is called self control, a taking captive of every thought-a fruit of righteousness and proof that the Holy Spirit has been WORKING in us! Scripture tells us that Christ gladly endured the cross because He saw beyond it to the final outcome. But in the Garden of Gethsemane he was not happy. In fact, He was in great anguish, fighting that fight of faith to be obedient to what His Father was asking. He didn't happily skip through the streets of Jerusalem and hop on the cross and say "go ahead fellows, bring on the nails." It was a work-the greatest work anyone has ever done-but work nonetheless. It wasn't pleasant, but He did it because He knew who had asked Him to do it and why. And so when we do what God has asked us to do to continue in what Christ's work accomplished for us, that is not works. That is obedience and service and pleasing to God.
So when someone calls you religious because you choose to obey God, tell them "thank you! That is the best compliment I've gotten all day!"