Religion has a bad rap these days. Whether in the form of adding works to the faith or blatant hypocrisy, Christianity has a bit of a PR problem. This is only compounded by the fact that the media is quick to share stories of corrupt Catholic priests, sleazy mega-church pastors, and the antics of Westboro Baptist. However, they’re not so quick to highlight those who are living out what James calls true religion.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 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.
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.
James tells us two things true religion NEVER does, and two things which are evidence of true religion. I’m a bit of a non-linear thinker so I’m going to look at them out of order.
True Religion is Not Polluted by the World (verse 27)
This probably won’t surprise you, but there are a lot of really insecure people in our culture. The statistics on the number of teenage girls who don’t consider themselves attractive are staggering. The number of people with a healthy view of themselves are terrifying. We measure value based on superficial traits, success, and what others can do for us.
We’ve polluted ourselves with the world’s way of thinking. We watch TV shows where girls are judge based off of their beauty, and someone literally will circle the places where there’s too much fat. We buy magazines with perfect looking celebrities on the cover which promise to inform us how to get perfect thighs, a great butt, and smooth vibrant skin. Then, when you read the article, they forget to mention their cover girl’s legs were slightly shrunk, her waste was shrunk, her skin was slightly blurred to remove her pores, and they color corrected her skin so she would have a perfect glowing tan. Oh yeah, and before they took the photo, a dozen world class hair and makeup artists did everything in their power to make her look better than ever. I read an interview recently with a 20 year old B-level celebrity who decided to have a surgical operation to physically cut out part of her inner thighs so she would have a wider thigh gap. They forgot to mention that trick in the magazine article.
I wonder why so many girls have eating body image issues and eating disorders?
We’ve polluted our minds.
You can go through our society and, in every way, we’ve created expectations which lead to our destruction instead of our success; we’ve polluted our minds. Instead, true religion is shaped by the reading and applying of God’s Word.
True Religion Controls Its Tongue (verse 26)
If you want a good test to see how you’re doing on the inside spiritually, take a look at what’s coming out of you. Jesus put this brilliantly:
45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
If your heart isn’t being transformed by the Word and is instead being polluted by the World, why would it surprise you when you say things you wish you could take back? Or, to reverse that, if you constantly find yourself saying things you know you shouldn’t say, maybe you need to look for the areas of your heart which are still polluted and drown those areas out with Truth.
Maybe, for you, you’re pretty good with your words. On the surface, this could seem like an area where more introverted personality types have the advantage over the more extroverted types.
But consider, what do you say when…
- …you’re tired
- …you’re stressed
- …you’re angry
- …you’re depressed
- …you’re surprised
- …you’re annoyed
When life is hard, how do you respond? When life starts to squeeze, what comes out?
True Religion Does Not Show Favortism (verse 2:1)
True Religion Helps the Helpless (verse 27)
We have a huge problem in our culture with bullying. At it’s core, bullying is when someone uses their strength to hurt the helpless. It’s using your plenty to exploit the poor. If you’re strong, you pick on the weak. If you have money and power, you leverage it to get more money from those with less money and power.
What did Jesus do?
- He leveraged His power to help the poor.
- He leveraged His power to save sinners.
- He moved towards those who were physically and spiritually weak, and He gave them hope.
True religion is when you leverage your power and resources to help those in need.
True religion is when you move towards the poor and the lowly.
If you’re not moving towards the poor, you’re moving the opposite direction of God; you’re not moving towards the people that God pursued.
With the applications on true religion, it’s always important to remember that the most important thing is making sure that your actions come from a change in identity. James is not arguing that you start doing new things to be religious. That’s bad religion. True religion is when you have a transforming faith in Christ which leads to a change in activity. Suddenly, the over-flow of your heart is love instead of hate. Suddenly, your actions are for the benefit of others instead of yourself.