Dr. Nash’s Word Study, Entry 2
What constitutes true religion is often discussed in today’s religious world. It might be profitable for us to study some of the words used in the New Testament to describe the religious person. Such an investigation could certainly shed light on this problem.
The noblest word for the godly man would be θεοσεβής (theosebes) which indicates one who worships, reveres, honors and serves God. It comes from the verb σέβομαι (sebomai), picturing falling back before the awesome and the prefix θεός (theos), God; hence, to reverence God.
A similar word would be εὐσεβής (eusebes) from the same root but with the prefix εὖ (eu), well; this piety is toward God but could be reverence toward men or objects; hence, it is used of good moral men as well as the devout Christian, as in the case of Cornelius.
A word with a vivid word picture behind it to show the attitude of the religious man is εὐλαβής (eulabes) which means “to handle with care.” It indicates the handling of divine objects with fear and trepidation lest we desecrate or misuse that which is sacred. It is this virtue that is attributed to Christ in Hebrews 5:7 and rather unhappily rendered “fear” because it does not suggest fear in a cowardly, worldly, or physical sense, but reverent awe toward his Father’s will.
θρῆσκος (Threskos) is the word used by James in 1:27, 28 of his epistle when he attempts to define true religion. This word indicates the proper performances of the outward rituals of religion. So, what James is saying is that if a man seems to perform the outward ceremonies of his faith but does not manifest the proper results in daily life, his ceremonial religion in vain. He does not eliminate ceremonial religion but says it must produce works of righteousness to be valid.
A summary of these words will show that true religion must have three basic elements: reverent awe and godly fear in the worship of God; correct handling of the outward commands of God; moral and spiritual righteousness in our dealing with others. Thus religion is (1) spiritual worship, (2) outward ceremony, and (3) practical morality. One without the other is dead.