Monday, October 03, 2005

James 1:26-27: There are Two Kinds of Religion in This World.

If you are any kind of Clint Eastwood fan you remember the ending in "The Good the Bad and the Ugly.” There was that infamous three way show down where Blondie (Eastwood) guns down the Bad; and the night before took the bullets from Ugly’s gun. At the end of this great scene Blondie (Eastwood) looks at Ugly and says: “There are two kinds of people in this world, those with loaded guns and those who dig.” Much to my chagrin I am not sure that I will ever have the opportunity to use that quote, however as I read James 1:26-27 I can’t help but think: “There are two kinds of religion in this world, one that is useless and one that is acceptable before God.”

James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. 27 This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

The Useless (bad and ugly)

James has already written about the dangers of hearing and not doing in verses 23- 25, and here in these verses he warns us against the dangers of religious good works that leave the inner man unchanged. This is the Useless religion.

The useless religion that James is talking about here thinks much of itself. This kind of religion thinks much of itself because it thinks that external works of religion fulfill all spiritual requirements. The problem with this is that we have a spiritual requirement that cannot be met by our own works. We have been separated from God through our sin, and based on our own deeds we will always fall short of our spiritual requirement. But thanks to God, through Christ, our spiritual requirements have been met through the work of the cross.

Religion that is focused merely on external deeds forgets that true external worship can only come through inner revival. This type of religion thinks much of itself, when true Christianity is all about thinking little of yourself. This is the Gospel! We are sinners who have fallen short, and we must humble ourselves before the cross. A religion that makes people think much of themselves is useless.

Sometimes it is hard to tell who is a trifling pretender who only does good works so that he can pat himself on the back, and who is doing good works because he is being impacted by the Gospel message. But here in this verse James gives us something to look for; James gives us a way to distinguish between the hypocrites and the true worshipers. You will be able to tell what kind of person someone is by what comes out of their mouths. The person who trusts in outer things rather that God will sooner or later reveal himself with what he says. He does not have the power to control his tongue because he does not have the power of the Gospel working in his life. A man’s uncontrolled tongue will reveal his religion to be worthless.

Someone may give the outer appearance of being religious, and in the meantime try to make himself look good by speaking poorly of another. He is seeking his own praise rather than the praise of God. He thinks much of himself, and his speech will reveal it. What comes out of your mouth is an indicator of what is in your heart (see Matthew 12:34; 37). Religion that does not change the heart, which you will see in what a person says, is useless before God.

This type of religion is very dangerous because it will deceive your heart. It will fool you into focusing on external works as the way to true religion, rather than letting a true religious walk with God change your external works. This kind of religion, which is focused on external works rather than internal revival, will always be vain and idolatrous. If you are not careful you can very easily fall into the trap of thinking that performance of external good works is all that is needed. This type of religion will fail to bring you to the goal of religion, a relationship with God.

Useless religion’s concern with external works will not bring about a change in your heart. Good works are important as expressions of personal faith but they are useless apart form the inner working of the Spirit. The person who accepts this useless religion has not faith in his life to change his heart. He has deceived himself into thinking that he is living right before God. And you cannot seek forgiveness if you are deceived into thinking that you do not need it.

*Later this week we will take a look at the kind of religion that is acceptable to God.*


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