Thursday, October 06, 2005

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

Earlier this week we took a look at James 1:26, the Bad. Today we will finish our look at the two different types of religion in this world (see Mondays post for the Good the Bad and the Ugly references). In verse 27 James describes for us what the good and acceptable religion looks like. As we begin to see the picture of God's grace, and understand this acceptable religion we see that apart from this good and acceptable religion we are doomed.

The Good

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. 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.

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father

Proper religion, that is acceptable to God, is pure and blameless before the Father. This kind of religion will have a positive influence on your life, and it will be eternally useful. As we look at the two different kinds of religion it is important to see that our religion must hold up to God’s standards, and not our own. According to God’s standards religion must be more than external; it must spring up from an inner spiritual growth that expresses itself in a pure and blameless life (see Matthew 15:6b-8). James already appealed to this heavenly standard in verse 20. The genuineness of someone’s religion is not determined by his own standards, but rather by God’s. We can deceive ourselves but not God. We must humble ourselves and seek a religion that is pleasing to God. Acceptable religion must unite the inner man and outer experience of the gospel (the inner will save your souls, and result in the outer).

to visit orphans and widows in their distress

Acceptable religion must manifest itself in godly actions. If we worship the loving Father but we do not love one another then we are living inconsistently. We must care for the orphans, and the widows and this express our faith through love (see Galatians 5:6). James choose to talk only about taking care of the orphans and the widows for a couple of reasons: 1) they were the most needy in that society, particularly those who had been displaced due to persecution; 2) this would have been a familiar reference to the Jewish community. Many time throughout the OT God commands the people to care for the widows and orphans who are unable to care for themselves (see Isaiah 1:10-17). Can we be like our God who is the Father to the fatherless and the helper to the helpless (see John 13:35)? A truly redeemed heart will reach out to others in love just as the Christ reached out to them in love.
It is not about what you do, it is about why you do it. The person with the useless religion may have looked good externally, but his heart was not acceptable before God. He thought much of himself through deception. He was not exercising his faith through love because he had no faith. True religion will result in external works only after the heart has been changed. The motivation for what you do is just as important as what you do. James says that the result of true religion is that rather than patting yourself on the back for good deeds you will love one another. The example that James choose is interesting. He chose orphans and widows; in other words the mark of true religion is doing something for those who cannot return the favor.

and to keep oneself unstained by the world

The last mark of acceptable religion is that it is unstained by the world. The one who is truly religious will exhibit love to the world without being polluted by the sin of the world. True religion has a consistently Christian world view that has not been polluted by the way the world thinks. Remember, the world denies all that we hold true about the gospel (see Romans 1). We must reject the Christ-denying practices of the world, and accept the true religion of the Bible. True religion balances the need for social concerns (taking care of the helpless) with our own personal purity. We must be able to do both without hurting the other.

It is not enough to participate in formal religious activity (vss26-27), nor is it enough to listens to statements of spiritual truth (vss 23-25). The person whose religious experience is genuine will put spiritual truth into practice, and his life will be marked by love for others and holiness before God. We must examine ourselves. James says that the person trapped in the useless religion has deceived himself and does not even know anything is wrong. Be very careful; make sure that you are not this person. Make sure that what comes out of your mouth is consistent with God’s word, and make sure that you are doing the right things for the rights reasons.

*NOTE: The Braves are down 0-1, however we have one of the best big game pitchers in recent history going for us today in John Smoltz.*


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