Undefiled Religion

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

- James 1:26–27

In our day, many have said that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Oftentimes, such a claim works to set the Christian faith apart from all other belief systems. When this statement is made, it is assumed that “religion” is something invented by man to provide a way through which he can work out his own salvation. “Relationship” is viewed as something initiated by God in Christ for the sake of a salvation that mankind could never earn.

If we understand “religion” and “relationship” this way, then there is nothing wrong with the claim that Christianity is not a religion. However, we must be aware that in our individualistic culture, people might be tempted to think that someone can have a personal relationship with Jesus and have no concern for others. While a personal relationship with Jesus results in salvation, if it is a true relationship, it will always move us to care for others.

It would also be a mistake to think that the Bible always defines the word religion in such a negative way. After all, the Bible does use the word religion in a positive sense to refer to the outward manifestation of a true saving relationship with Jesus Christ. We see a fine example of this in today’s passage where James gives us three ways in which we can recognize pure religion. The bridling of the tongue, the care for widows and orphans, and keeping oneself unstained from the world are all demonstrations of the pure religion that flows from authentic faith in Jesus (James 1:26–27).

Yesterday, we saw that if we are not doers of the Word we deceive ourselves. Today’s verses explain how we can be doers of the Word. If we do not control what we say, allow the world to pollute us, or ignore the needy among us, we are not doers of the Word and have deceived ourselves with respect to the authenticity of our faith (vv. 26–27).

On the one hand, we should not think that such things exhaust the content of true religion. But, on the other hand, if we do not obey these commands, we should ask ourselves about the veracity of our relationship with Jesus. Over the coming months, we will examine these themes closely as James brings them up again in his letter.

Coram Deo

Does your relationship with Jesus impact others? Do you know when to bridle your tongue for the sake of edifying other believers? Does your relationship manifest itself in a religion of service that helps to provide for widows and orphans so that they will come to know Christ? Does your love for Jesus motivate you to stay away from moral impurity? If the answer to any of these questions is no, strive to avoid the sins of an unbridled tongue and the neglect of the needy.

Passages for Further Study

Ex. 22:21–24
Ps. 34:13
Mark 12:38–40
John 15:19; 17:15

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