INTRODUCTION: Preventing deception is a major theme for James (1:1:16, 22, 26). In today’s passage, James wants to keep us from the deception that being religious is merely going through a set of rituals and motions. James doesn’t want us to be deceived into thinking the more I exemplify religious behavior the more spiritual I am. There is religion that’s pure and true. Let’s take a look at what James says the definition of real religion is.
1) Impure religion is:
• Legalistic. Matt. 12:1-14. There’s a saying that goes, “some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good’. I think one of the reasons for that is they are legalistic in their religion and not focusing on the principle of love. Legalism takes the command and removes love from it. Legalism and love do not go hand in hand. Jesus loved without compromising on the principle that God intended. William Barclay’s commentary: ‘We can’t make ritual a replacement for service. We can’t make religion splendid within the church at the expense of neglecting it outside the church. This is by no means to say it is wrong to seek to offer the most splendid worship within God’s house but it is empty and idle worship unless it sends a person out to love God by loving his fellow man and to walk more purely in the tempting ways of the world’. When the ordinances of the word become for me just a strict duty to uphold without taking into consideration the needs of others then my religion is impure and worthless.
• Hypocritical. Matt. 23:1-7, 23-28. Jesus pointed out that the religion of the Pharisees was shallow and hypocritical. A hypocrite is someone who tries to convince everyone that they’re something they’re not. Someone who leads a secret double life. Lives a double standard. This is the Pharisees and Jesus highlights that their superficial religious behavior was not indicative of the life they were living. Quote, ‘True religion is the life we live; not the creed we profess’. Anyone can show up to church; anyone can sing songs and participate, anyone can listen to the sermon. Anyone can appear religious, but in order to be religious, one needs to go from listening to the word inside the church to going from the church service and doing the word outside the church. Anyone can pretend to be holy and righteous but the one who practices holiness and righteousness in their daily living is the one who practices true religion.
• Deceiving. Acts 17:22-23. These men were very religious but yet they weren’t worshipping the one, true God. In verses 24 and following Paul explains to them who the one, true God is, the maker of heaven and earth. The God who created them and desires that they would seek him. In verses 29-31 Paul explains their error in creating all those objects of worship. So we see that these men of Athens were regarded as very religious people. Some may have thought that they were wise and holy. But the problem is that their religion was worthless because their worship was not true worship. Their religion was not true religion. They weren’t seeking to have a relationship with the one, true God. There are many people like that today. They are religious but they are not seeking to have a relationship with the one, true God, the God of the bible. And there are those who say they are worshipping the one true God but their worship is based on mere ritual rather than relationship. These are deceived into thinking their religion is pure and faultless.
2) Real religion is when we are:
• Controlled (vs. 26). James could’ve mentioned anything here. “If anyone considers himself to be religious yet does not_____”. Although I believe you could fill in the blank with other things and have justification for doing so, the text singles out controlling the tongue. But why? What is it about the tongue that holds so much weight regarding a person’s true religiosity? You’re telling me that I can do all this religious stuff and if my tongue is not in check that renders all these others things as worthless? How? Here’s what James is trying to get across here. I can shout all the “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords” inside of these church walls but when I go out from here and transition into “f--- you” and “go to hell” then my religion, my words inside of church, are deemed worthless. Because who am I fooling? If I hear you say to someone, “Jesus loves you” inside of church but then I hear you say to someone outside of church “let me tell you something you no good pain in the…” then what am I going to think? Am I going to think that what I heard from you inside the church was the real you or what I heard from you outside the church? What we say inside the church isn’t as important as what we’re saying outside of it. If we’re not consistent then our religion is worthless. Some people have their wonderful “Sunday speech” followed by their terrible “Monday mouth”. Now, I’m not saying that someone who has a slip of the tongue on occasion renders his religion worthless. I’m not condoning or justifying it but I don’t think James is saying if you don’t keep your tongue in check 100% of the time then you’re a hypocrite. But James is highlighting that if we think we’re religious but we don’t control what’s coming out of our mouths then we are deceiving ourselves. 3:9-12. Once while John Wesley was preaching, he noticed a lady in the audience who was known for her critical attitude. All through the service she sat and stared at his new tie. When the meeting was over, she came up to him and said very sharply, Mr. Wesley the strings on your bow tie are much too long. It’s an offence to me. He asked if any of the other ladies happened to have a pair of scissors. When the scissors were handed to him, he gave them to his critic & asked her to trim the streamers to her liking. After she clipped them off near the collar, he said, are you sure they’re al right now? She said yes that is much better. Wesley said, then let me have those scissors a moment, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I also make a correction. I must tell you that your tongue is an offence to me-it’s too long! Please stick it out; I’d like to take some off”. Pure religion is controlled speech.
• Compassionate (vs. 27a). Just like James singles out the tongue in the previous verse, he singles out the orphan and the widow here. As I said previously that I believe you could fill in the blank with other issues regarding rendering one’s religion worthless. Here I believe you could fill in the blank with other people groups regarding showing true, compassionate religion. But James singles out orphans and widows Why? Adam Clark’s commentary for verse 27: “Works of charity and mercy are the proper fruits of religion; and none are more especially the objects of charity and mercy than the orphans and widows. False religion may perform acts of mercy and charity; but its motives not being pure, and its principle being defiled, the flesh, self, and hypocrisy, spot the man, and spot his acts. True religion does not merely give something for the relief of the distressed, but it visits them, it takes the oversight of them, it takes them under its care. It goes to their houses, and speaks to their hearts; it relieves their wants, sympathizes with them in their distresses, instructs them in Divine things and recommends them to God. And all this it does for the Lord's sake. This is the religion of Christ. The religion that does not prove itself by works of charity and mercy is not of God. Reader, what religion hast thou? Has thine ever led thee to cellars, garrets, cottages, and houses, to find out the distressed? Hast thou ever fed, clothed, and visited a destitute representative of Christ?” James singles out two groups of people who society would deem unworthy. Not worth the time; not worth the effort. Therefore, one could, as Adam said, do charitable works for other people groups with impure motives. So it’s not enough that I would help people, but I must check my motives in doing so. Why? Because I might be helping someone who I feel has something to offer me in return. However, if I go out of my way to minister to the poor, the needy, the homeless, the widow, the orphan, I am helping someone who cannot pay me back. I must be willing to help this person knowing I will not get repaid. If I can do that then I know my motive is to please God and not myself. Thus I entertain true religion in the eyes of God. Luke 6:34-36. If I lend to those who can pay me back then my reward will be in full. But if my spirit is such that I’m willing to give to those who are not able to pay me back then my reward is in heaven. A Christian businessman heard his pastor tell about a widow who had been evicted from her home because she had no money to pay her rent. Her furniture was piled up on the lawn. She didn’t know where she would go or what she would do. The pastor said that if someone would help her, he would have a "foretaste of heaven." The businessman went to the home to see what he could do. He returned to church that evening and said, "I have just been in heaven. I went to see that widow, paid her back rent, helped her move her belongings into the house again, and stocked her cupboards with food. It is the most joy I have experienced in many years." Real religion is compassionate.
• Clean (vs. 27b). What does it mean to be polluted by the world? Love for the world-1st John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” We become polluted by the world when we love the world. Being polluted by the world is choosing to be conformed to the world-Romans 12:2a, “Do conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Keeping oneself from being polluted by the world: In the forests of Northern Europe lives the ermine, a small animal known best for its snow-white fur. Instinctively this animal protects its glossy coat of fur with great care lest it become soiled. Hunters often capitalize on this trait. Instead of setting a mechanical trap to catch the ermine, they find its home in a cleft of a rock or a hollow tree and daub the entrance and the interior with tar. Then their dogs start the chase, and the frightened ermine flees toward its home. But finding it covered with filth, he spurns his place of safety. Rather than soil his white fur, he courageously faces the yelping dogs that hold him at bay until the hunters capture him. To the ermine, purity is dearer than life! The Lord wants us to be a people who will keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Be in the world but not of the world. To impress being separated to God and holy in personal conduct this upon the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, God instructed them to put a "cord of blue" upon the borders of their garments (Numbers 15:38). Blue spoke of heaven and signified the character and destiny of His chosen people. The blue band would constantly remind them of their holy calling. It was a visible token of their being set apart unto God, calling to mind the Lord’s priority over their lives and their responsibility to obey His commandments. What reminders do we need to keep us from becoming polluted by the world? Wear a Christian t-shirt. You’d be less apt to be polluted by the world when you’re telling the world you’re a Christian. Same with a Christian bumper sticker on your car. Real religion is keeping myself clean from the world’s pollution.
CONCLUSION: People have varying ideas as to what it means to be religious. Erroneously they conclude that if someone goes to church, reads their bible, prays, sings, and goes through all these motions then they are truly religious. But, as we found out today, although those things are good, they don’t necessarily render someone to be truly religious. Religion that God accepts from his followers is to have controlled speech, compassion for the orphans and widows and to keep ourselves from becoming stained by the world’s filth. Let’s go from here with a commitment to be realigious.