Summary: James uses very confrontational language as he drives home the point that if we don't put God's Word into practice, then why did we bother to hear it. Religion that makes a difference is religion leads to godly language, godly love, and godly lifestyle.
A. I heard about a man who came into worship late one Sunday.
1. He asked someone in the back of the auditorium, “Is the sermon done yet?”
2. The person wisely answered, “The sermon has been preached, but it has yet to be done.”
3. Wow! You talk about a statement that is truthful and insightful!
4. The sermon isn’t done when it is preached, but when it is practiced. Amen!
5. Many years ago, A. W. Tozer lamented: “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun…It is the glaring disparity between theology and practice among professing Christians. So wide is the gulf that separates theory from practice in the church that an inquiring stranger who chances upon both would scarcely dream that there was any relation between them. An intelligent observer of our human scene who heard the Sunday morning sermon and later watched the Sunday afternoon conduct of those who had heard it would conclude that he has been examining two distinct and contrary religions…It appears that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right.”
6. That was a pretty scathing critique of Christians and Christianity as Tozer observed them in the 1950s, and although my optimistic and hopeful side wants to think we aren’t like that today, my realistic side has to admit that far too often we are just hearers, rather than doers of the Word.
B. At the beginning of this series I said that there is no more practical book in the Bible than James.
1. These verses today are some of the most direct and practical in this little letter.
2. But in addition to their practicality, there is also an edge to these verses.
3. James doesn’t just say, “This is the way you should live.”
4. With an air of confrontation, he says, “If you are not living this way…then your religion is”…and it’s hard for me to even say it…he says. “Your religion is worthless.”
5. That’s strong language, don’t you think?
6. Twice in this section he warns us against self-deception.
7. Satan would be very happy for us to profess our faith while not actually putting it into practice.
8. But God would not be happy about that one bit.
C. Guided by the Holy Spirit, James declares: If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. (James 1:26)
1. I personally think that James could have substituted any number of things for “controlling his tongue” in that verse and it would have been just as truthful.
2. He could have said, “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his greed, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.”
3. Other substitutions could be “lust, hatred, or hostility,” just to name a few.
4. The point is: True religion makes a difference.
5. True religion is heart felt and life changing.
6. William Barclay, the great commentator wrote, “James does well to remind us that that which is heard in the holy place must be lived in the market place – or there is no point in hearing at all.”
D. So, with that in mind, how does James define religion that makes a difference?
1. What does God accept as pure and faultless religion?
2. What does it look like and should it look like?
I. What Religion That Makes a Difference Looks Like
A. When I try to summarize these verses, I can see James saying that religion that makes a difference is characterized by three things: Godly language, godly love and godly lifestyle.
1. Let’s briefly examine each of them.
B. First of all, religion that makes a difference is characterized by GODLY LANGUAGE.
1. James will have a lot to say about godly language when we get to chapter 3, and we will really concentrate on that subject when we get there, but for now let’s notice what he says about it here in chapter 1.
2. In verse 19, James wrote: “My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger…”
3. Then in verse 26, as we already noticed, he added: “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.”
4. Hardly any test of one’s religion could be more practical and revealing as than this one.
5. Are we able to listen?
a. Do we know when and how to hold our tongue?
b. Can we control our temper, which usually reveals itself through our tongue?
6. I don’t believe that being known for a sharp tongue and a fiery temper will make any of us an effective influence for Christ and his church.