Summary: Pure religion lives out as an outworking of the grace of God in us!
“Religion Undefiled” James 1:17-27
“Religion Undefiled” James 1:17-27
The story is told of an evangelist overseer of an African Church, was talking about following the “pure” path, and the “pure” path only. It was night, and a crowd of natives sat around the campfire. A native dog passed between the fire and the listeners. “Look at that dog! How many legs has it?”’ asked the preacher. “Four,” came the reply. “Yes, four indeed,” retorted t, “but ha evangelist, have you ever seen the four legs of a dog trying to follow more than one path at a time? No, no! The four all go together; yet people with only two legs try to follow two paths: Christ and the world, God and mammon.”
This morning we will begin a series of sermons as we travel through the book of James. This little book which Martin Luther wanted removed from the cannon of Scripture, is packed with truth regarding to the manner of religion which is fitting and pleasing to God. Luther’s problem with the book was that in it are contained many sayings with regard to what religion “does.”
Luther’s great contention and the contention of all of the reformers of his era was that it is faith alone which saves. While the Roman Church contented that men were saved by faith and works, and to this day have many traces of this very same doctrine present in their doctrines, the reformers argued directly from the Scriptures and the life of Christ found in them that faith alone in the grace of God alone was the pathway, the road, to salvation and reconciliation with God.
In today’s Church I am convinced that the very same concern exists. Indeed, it has been at the core of religion from the beginning of creation, through the fall, through to the tower of Babel, right up to the present day. How do I relate to God? Do I work to please Him out of fear? If I am covered by grace then what positive effect, if any should that have in my life? What is the nature and manner of pure religion which is pleasing to God?
We will seek to answer these questions by looking at what the book of James has to say on the subject. I am convinced, unlike Martin Luther, that there is no dichotomy with the teaching of the book of James and the great truth that we are saved by faith alone according to grace alone. The point of James is that pure religion is faith lived, empowered by grace, expressed in the purity of love.
In desiring to give definition to anything that performs an action, that is, anything that “does,” he who seeks to arrive at a definition must look beyond that which the thing does, unto that which motivates its doing. In other words, when we look at the actions taken by an individual in his or her life, in order to understand those actions we must understand the driving force behind those actions.
He who shows compassion does so either for pure or impure motives. One person shows compassion so that others will consider him a good person. He shows compassion outwardly, hoping to receive the outward reward of praise and high consideration of himself by other people. This is the Pharisee which Jesus spoke about who prays loudly and in public so that other people will take notice.
There is another person who shows compassion outwardly, driven by inward motives, and seeking only an inward reward; that of participating in the inward life of the love of God. One is motivated by outward accolades, while the other is motivated by the inward love of Christ which has arrested their soul. The one motive is pure. The other motive is impure. The one is pleasing to God because it flows directly from the very love of God. The other is not pleasing to God because it neither asserts God in its aims, nor does it rely on God for its strength!
Let us examine what the first chapter of James has to say with regard to what it means to live out undefiled religion.
Surely there are few areas in life where people have differing views on how best to define a thing, than the “thing” of religion. Time and again we hear people describe themselves as religious. To be sure some of them probably are but how can we know what it means to be religious in any sense of the word without some kind of definition? Some people believe themselves to be religious as synonymous with merely believing in some vague conception of an indistinct and utterly unknowable god.
For many of these people religion as an enterprise is unnecessary because they cannot fathom the necessity of something so monstrous as a brick and motor establishment designated for the worship of a sovereign divine because their notion of God is far more well suited to vagary and indistinct undefined moralism.