Summary: James describes "pure religion" in very practical terms that are easy to understand.
What is religion? Isn’t it amazing how we can use a word every day of our life and have no idea what it means? “Religion” is one of those words. It’s like the ad in the newspaper “Dog for sale.” When we read that ad, what kind of dog comes to our mind? Chances are it is a dog that we are familiar with or have had some experience with. It is different for everyone of us. When the word “religion” is used, we each have our own concept, depending on our personal knowledge and experience.
Theologians are no different. There is only one class of person that can best a politician in talking more and saying less; theologians. Here is an example of a theologian’s definition of religion; “Religion originates in an attempt to represent and order beliefs, feelings, imaginings and actions that arise in response to direct experience of the sacred and the spiritual. As this attempt expands in its formulation and elaboration, it becomes a process that creates meaning for itself on a sustaining basis, in terms of both its originating experiences and its own continuing responses.” (I don’t remember where I got this quote. I have tried to find it again without success. You may want to substitute your own.) WHAAAT? What did he say? I have no idea!
Let me see if I can make it a little simpler. Religion starts when we realize that there is a Power in this world that is greater than us and we begin to determine a way or ways through which we can establish and maintain a right relationship with that Power. We are motivated by the desire to have some meaning to and control of our life in this world and some assurance of a continuing relationship with that Power in an afterlife.
Very simply put...so that I can understand it...religion is everything we do to please God in this life so that we can live with him in the life hereafter. Religion encompasses our worship practices, our relationship to other believers and to the community at large, as well as our private lives.
How our religion is practiced depends on our understanding of who God is and what He wants us to do to be pleasing to Him. The wide variation of religious practices in the world today illustrates the diversity in man’s understanding of God. Our understanding of God comes from — or at least should come from — the Bible. We believe the Bible is God’s divinely inspired word and it contains God’s instructions to us on what He wants us to do to be pleasing to Him. In other words, the Bible tells us how to be religious.
Now, before you start running for the door, we are not going to try to cover all aspects of our religion this morning. Instead we want to focus on one passage in the book of James in which James gives us his definition of Pure Religion.
In James 1:19-27, James discusses how pure religion is manifested in the life of the Christian. Throughout his book, James focuses on the behavior of belief. At one point he says that “Faith without works is dead.” Our claim to have faith is empty if our actions do not reflect that claim.