What Does True Religion Look Like?
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
I said previously that James was my favorite book. I am thinking of rescinding that statement. James is a mirror painfully reflecting the truth that I do not want to face. In this passage, James described what my life should look like if I have an authentic relationship with God. It is not a comforting passage but it is brutally and beautifully plain.
The ever-pragmatic James must have been writing to Christians who wanted a feel-good religion. They must have wanted a faith consisting only of knowledge that left their daily lives unscathed. He must have been writing to Christians who had more interest in the pleasures and cares of the world than they did for their neighbor in need. He must have been writing to me.
James said that if we have a pure and undefiled relationship with God, our lives will focus on loving those around us and we will avoid obsession with the pleasures of the world. James never said that we earn our relationship with God by doing these things. He did however insist that a true relationship with God would lead to these things.
How does my religion compare? Well, I am self-serving, mostly just interested in what Scott wants. Widows and orphans? That’s a lot of work and I am a busy guy. I have a job and a family to think about. Unstained by the world? Um… I’d rather not answer that one.
Thankfully, I do not have to rely on my deeds to save me. I would be in trouble. I am saved by faith alone and there is always enough grace and mercy to cover my failures and defects. James did not say that I am damned if I do not measure up to this picture of religion. He did however insist that if I am going to claim a relationship with God, it has to have a radical effect on how I live. Others should be able to see that I live differently. My religion is hollow and false if it consists only of empty words and knowledge.
James demanded that I follow the instructions of Christ if I claim to be his disciple. I need to deny self, take up my cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). That is what pure and undefiled religion looks like. Like I said, beautiful but brutal.