Summary: What does pure religion and undefiled before God, the Father, look like? James challenges us to discover for ourselves what that religion looks like.
JAMES 1:26, 27
WHAT THE FAITH LOOKS LIKE
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
The story is told of a little boy who asked his father, “Daddy, what is a Christian?” After pondering this question, that father gave a somewhat extended answer. He told the lad about salvation through faith in Jesus the Saviour, and he explained that Christians worship Jesus and live to honour Him. He explained that because a Christian is born from above, he is compassionate and generous, willing to be involved in helping all who are in need. When the father had concluded explaining what a Christian is, the little lad looked up and asked, “Daddy, do we know any?”
There are times that each of us may be tempted to ask whether we know any Christians. The tragic truth that is not often declared is that each of us is capable of living in such a manner that we dishonour the Name of the Saviour at times. Though saved by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus, we are fallen creatures; and but for the grace of God, we would all be under sentence of death. However, God, in mercy, has redeemed those who believe on His Son; and having redeemed them, He appoints them to serve Him through exercising the gifts that He has given each one. Together, we unite in communities of faith where we worship the Risen Son of God and build one another in this most holy Faith. We also reveal the presence of the Living Saviour through doing the work that Jesus did when He was in the flesh.
Wherever the Faith is found, you will discover the Body of Christ, which is His church. How will I recognise the Body of Christ? The true Body of Christ will be busy doing the things that the Saviour did when He was in the flesh. Was Jesus compassionate? Then the Body of Christ will reveal His compassion toward those who are vulnerable and weak. Was Jesus truthful? The Body of Christ will both speak the truth and live the truth as revealed through the Word of God. Was the Lord Jesus bold in confronting sin? Wherever His Body is found, you will witness people who boldly live for His Name’s sake as they rebuke evil.
This is the essence of James’ statement in the verses that comprise our text for this day. He speaks negatively to rebuke the tendency for those who name the Name to Christ to reduce their religious affections to mere words; and then he speaks positively to remind them of what the Faith consists. Join me in exploring James’ teaching that together we may build a church to the glory of the Father and to the praise of Christ the Lord.
A POPULAR VIEW OF RELIGION — “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” It will be beneficial for us to place this portion of the Word in context. In order to do that, let’s read the preceding verses. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” [JAMES 1:19-25].
James’ immediate concern was to encourage Christians who were even then being horribly persecuted to live godly and holy lives. He is focused on the reaction, whether verbal or physical, of believers to unjust attacks. Just as they needed to be encouraged to be holy, so Christians today must be encouraged to be holy. Godliness is more than mere piety; godliness is discovering what is pleasing to God in a given situation and courageously doing what has been discovered. Holiness is not optional for the child of God; holiness is mandatory. The Apostle Peter writing the same Christians, wrote, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” [1 PETER 1:13-16].