Summary: Religion is the expression of one's faith put into practice. For many professed Christians, religion is all they have, because they don't have the faith of Christ the Lord. Too much religion will tend to lead us astray. Faith will lead us to Christ.
“When [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
“‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’” 
One of the fastest growing religions in North America is atheism.  That statement is not a sign of growing confusion for this ageing preacher. You see, atheism is a religion despite the common perception that there is nothing religious about the concept. The atheist denies the existence of any divine being. It requires incredible faith to hold to atheism; it means that despite any evidence to the contrary—and there is a great deal of such evidence for God as Creator and for His providence, the atheist has chosen to believe there is no deity.
As untenable as the faith of the atheist may be, I don’t believe it is as illogical as that of the agnostic. Pseudointellectuals often wish to appeal to the intelligentsia without actually denying reality. When pushed, an atheist will most times acknowledge that they hold a position of faith. “I don’t believe there is a God,” they will confess. Or perhaps they will go so far as to admit that they choose not to believe.
When I was completing doctoral studies at the medical school in Dallas, I engaged in a philosophical discussion with one of my professors. Our conversation moved to the concept of origins. I readily confessed that I held to the concept that Living God was the Creator who called all things into being. As might be expected, the professor with whom I was speaking responded, “I don’t believe that.” When pressed to disprove there is a God who created all things, he admitted, “To believe such as that is sheerly incredible.” In other words, it wasn’t that he was convinced there was no God, he simply was unprepared to acknowledge God. The very thought gave him the willies!
The agnostic holds a position that doesn’t even concede that God is an impossibility. In his arrogance, the agnostic says, “I’ve examined all the evidence, I’ve studied all the possibilities, and I simply can’t decide if there is a God. I have no evidence for or against God.” He is trying to hold to a position in the middle of the road.
I’ve often cautioned people that the only thing in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead skunks. The atheist and the agnostic must hear the warning voiced by the Psalmist:
“Fools say to themselves, ‘There is no God.’
They sin and commit evil deeds;
none of them does what is right.”
[PSALM 14:1 NET BIBLE]
As a point of significant interest, the Psalmist doesn’t say that the individuals in view are convinced that there is no God; rather, they have determined that there will be no god for themselves. In effect, the verse serves as a vigorous condemnation of the atheist and the agnostic because they have decided that they will not believe. They are rejecting all evidence before it is even presented.
Religion is the practise of one’s faith. Religion, of itself, is neither good nor evil; it is a neutral concept. It is what is worshipped that is problematic. Religion that leads one to exalt that which is not godly is evil. Religion that compels one to move toward the Living God will be witnessed in how that one lives. Do you remember the statement concerning religion that was penned by the brother of our Lord? “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” [JAMES 1:27].
The message for this day looks at religious people. No one would argue that the Pharisees were irreligious—they were scrupulous in the conduct of their religion. While excoriating the Pharisees and their scribes for their religion, Jesus exposed them for being extremely religious. However, He revealed that they had too much religion in the wrong place. They had meticulous rules for making oaths, though they created their rules without consideration of the will of God. They painstakingly counted seeds so that they gave neither too much nor too little of what they possessed. These religious nitpickers were fastidious in washing their hands, in counting the number of steps on the Sabbath, of identifying what qualified as work and what constituted rest. However, they were ignorant of the mind of God.