Summary: James defines the difference between real and phony faith.

Through the New Testament 2006

The Real McCoy

James 1:23-27

Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister

First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO

Did you ever wonder where that expression The Real McCoy comes from? According to the folks at, nobody really knows for sure. Several possibilities are often cited.

Some think it came from the advertisements for a brand of Scottish whiskey from the 1870’s. To combat cheap imitators, the distiller promoted its drink as the “Real McCoy.”

Others point to Kid McCoy, a welterweight boxing champion from the late 1800’s. So many lesser fighters traded on his name, the promoters resorted to calling the champ “the real McCoy.”

Another possibility is Elijah McCoy, a Canadian inventor of engine lubricants that became popular with steam engines. When lower quality substitutes became common, he patented his product. It became known as the “real McCoy.”

Whatever the origin of the term, we know what it means—the genuine article, the real deal! That’s the concept in our text. In fact it’s the theme that runs beneath the surface of the entire book of James. That’s the next stop in our journey through the books of the Bible. We are at the beginning of our fifth year working our way through the Bible book by book.

The letter of James was probably one of the earliest New Testament books written. The author says he was “the brother of the Lord,” probably one of the children of Mary and Joseph after the birth of Christ (Mat 13:55; Gal 1:19). James would become one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 15:7, Acts 1:14, 12:17, 15:13, 19; Gal 2:1, 9, 10, 12, 1 Cor 9:5). Early Christians nicknamed him “James the Just” because of his reputation for righteousness.

The key to the book is wrapped up in a few words found at the end of the first chapter. He says in 1:26, “If anyone considers himself religious….” He continues in the next verse, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is . . .” James asks, what does real religion look like? What are the tell-tale signs that distinguish the “real McCoy” from a cheap imitator?

How would you answer that? Real religion is ….? We might offer lots of potential descriptions of the “real McCoy” when it comes to religion. Some might suggest real religion means going to church or having perfect attendance. Obviously, I’m in favor of church attendance and church membership. But I also know that there is more than that to the “Real McCoy.”

Pappa Ten Boom hit the nail on the head in the book The Hiding Place. Many of you probably read the book or the saw the movie about Corrie Ten Boom’s family who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis during the opening days of WWII. At one point in the book, Corrie and her sister question their father about why so many of their professing Christian neighbors were siding with the Nazis. “They are part of the same church we are,” observed young Corrie. Wise Pappa Ten Boom answer, “Just because a mouse is in the cookie jar doesn’t make it a cookie.”

Some of you old timers here can remember the days when perfect Sunday School attendance was rewarded with attendance pins. If you went a year with perfect attendance, you received a special pin. The next year, you received a little attachment that hung under the pin and the next year another. The practice died out at least thirty or forty years ago. I am old enough to have received a pin or two when I was kid. I can remember some of the old saints in my church with pins a few inches long. I have read of folk who had fifty or more years of perfect attendance. They would have to be careful not to trip over their pins if they wore them all at once. Now that’s impressive. Maybe that’s what real religion looks like.

Maybe you can tell real religion by how big a Bible a person carries. Maybe it is how a person dresses or how a lady wears her hair. Maybe real religion drives a black car like I do. Or maybe no car at all. Some might suggest that real religion sees visions, hears voices, and works miracles.

Folk from James’ Jewish background might have defined real religion by right ceremonies, rituals, or temple sacrifices. In fact, the word James uses for religion was the Jewish term for ceremonial temple service. James takes that term and pours a whole new meaning into it.

The entire book unfolds out of these few verses at the end of chapter 1. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (26-27).” The “Real McCoy”, genuine religion, always does three things in a person’s life. It controls the tongue, softens the heart, and purifies the soul. If it doesn’t, something’s wrong!

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