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Pure and Undefiled Religion

26 If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

Closing the chapter, James gives an example of what doing God’s Word looks like. In verse 26, James describes a person who believes they are religious and yet does not abide by the Word of God. This is the individual who focuses on external displays of religiosity, such as fasting, public giving, public prayer, and public worship. Now, that isn’t to say that all of these are bad things, but the heart is the focal point of the issue. Notice how James states that if this individual thinks he is religious “without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.” From out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (see Matt. 12:34-40). The imagery of controlling the tongue is that of a bridle on a horse. This theme of controlling the tongue will be expounded more in chapter 3, but the idea here is this: if this person claims to be very religious and yet is harsh with their words against others (slander, gossip, lying, etc.), then their religious acts are just for show, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, and they deceive themselves (see James 1:22). The acts they do are useless, empty. Anders summarizes this, saying, “Religious practices without inner control have no more saving power than paganism.”

On the positive opposite end, in verse 27, James states two aspects that display pure and undefiled religion before God, compassionate actions and inner purity. Now, the Christian faith is not just acts of benevolence, but James wanted to focus on acceptable worship to God through our ministries and personal lives, which both Christians and non-Christians can observe.

First, an example of these compassionate actions and ministry works is looking “after orphans and widows in their distress.” God’s character of compassion is described in Psalm 68:5 as He cares for the orphaned and widowed, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” To care for the orphaned and widowed is to actively be involved in their lives regularly, being genuinely compassionate; not a one-off visit.

Finally, believers must display inner purity “unstained from the world.” Paul lays this out clearly in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Jesus Christ has saved believers from the world and the chains of sin. Therefore, believers need to display that transformed lives by not returning to their previous sinful habits nor be tempted by the world’s actions.

Blessings,

Isaac De Guzman

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