When people ask me if I’m religious, I’m quick to say “no, but I love Jesus.” To be called religious has a bad connotation today. When I asked my small group to describe pure religion, words like formal, solemn, and rigid emerged. If that came to your mind then you may be surprised by the Bible’s description of pure religion.
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The book of James cuts through pious platitudes and gets down to practical living. “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (James 1:26 NLT).
Whoa, that’s pretty strong. Religion that doesn’t impact our speech is worthless. That means how we talk to others, how we talk about others, how we talk about ourselves, and the words that fly in anger say more about our faith than how many Bible studies we attend or miracles we’ve witnessed.
Imagine what it would be like to live in a home—or attend a church—where everyone was “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (Js. 1:19). How would the world respond to people who practiced that kind of religion, people who listened before they preached?
James continues, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (verse 27). In other words, pure religion is compassionate. Besides governing our tongues, it moves us to meet genuine needs. It motivates us to engage with the hurting without being polluted by the world’s thinking and values.
James uses the analogy of a mirror to help us understand how to do this. One look in the mirror and we know if we need to brush our teeth or hair. As a mirror shows what we need to adjust on the outside, so God’s Word reveals what we need to adjust on the inside. Spending time looking into the Word cleanses us and prevents the accumulation of soul-soiling grime.A mirror shows us what to adjust physically; God’s Word shows what to adjust spiritually. Click To Tweet
To begin, we must “humbly accept the word” (v. 21). Instead of cherry picking the standards we live by and tossing aside principles we don’t understand as outdated or irrelevant we humbly bend our wills and bow our hearts to His revealed truths.
Sometimes we think we know what’s better for us than our heavenly Father. We justify bitterness, backbiting, and pity parties. We cling to hurts, relationships, habits, or attitudes Scripture says to release.
James reminds us that God’s commands don’t steal our happiness or freedom. They set us free. “But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it” (v. 25).
Most of us appreciate highway guardrails. They keep us from falling over steep cliffs or oncoming traffic from crashing into us. They free us from anxiety and harm. Living within God’s limits protects us from injury too. Those who practice them are blessed.
James warns us not to deceive ourselves. The form of religion that pleases God can be summed up in four letters: L O V E!
- Looking carefully into the perfect law (James 1:25)
- Open ears to listen (James 1:19)
- Verbal self-control (James 1:19, 26)
- Extending help to the needy (James 1:27)
May we practice that kind of religion.
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