“Religion” gets a bad rap today. How many times have we heard someone say, “I don’t have time for religion” or “I’m not a religious person”? Have you heard this one: “Jesus came to give you a relationship, not religion”? Since we have heard these things, our verses today will challenge our expressions.
These verses deal with real religion verses replica religion. In other words, there is “religion” that’s good. Here’s what James writes:
26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his 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.
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we understand what we mean when we say some of the expressions used above. To most people “religion” is not what the dictionary defines it as. According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, religion is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” To most of us, “religion” is closer to being an empty ritual that makes no real difference in the lives of its followers. In other words, “vacuous” would define “religion” better than Oxford does.
Interestingly, James would partially agree. In 1:26, he says “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” Our “religion” or practice of faith is just that: something we do! It’s too easy to simply relegate our Christianity to “churchianity” and it leaves the world (and our fellow Christians) trying desperately to fill the gap we have created between what we say we believe and what actually believe…in other words: what we actually do. Our beliefs are not what we say; they are our actions.
James verifies this in verse 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.
Who cares if our brain if filled with great theology if those beliefs never find their way to our feet and hands. Don’t read too much into that first part: I’m NOT saying our beliefs are irrelevant—quite the contrary. I’m saying our deeds—our actions—those are our beliefs not what we “say”. Let me give you an example: I can believe jumping off my roof while putting up Christmas lights won’t hurt me. In theory, if I land just right, bending my knees just enough, I can avoid injury. However, let me assure you, I’m not putting that belief into practice! By the way, I’m not even 100% sure that belief is even right!!
So as we move through this time of “peace on earth”, remember this: we are defined as Christians, according to James, by what we do.
Let’s move forward sharing “real religion”: demonstrating our love for the Lord by caring for others and keeping ourselves from being “polluted by the world”.