Faithlife Sermons

What True Religion Looks Like

The Book of James  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We in this second section of James. We are learning about our Faith on the Outside of course. Previously in vv. 2-18 he was reminding us how we ought to respond to trials - in joy realizing God is perfecting us; asking for wisdom - knowing that is the chief thing we lack in a trial; keep the right perspective - whether rich or poor our eternal reward is what matter; remember God’s goodness - the trial is not a way to tempt us to sin but to remember that He is good.
Now our new section is vv. 19-27 where we see that James will be concerned now with not just our response to trials but our response to the Word of God.
The first way that we respond to the Word of God is to be Hearers of the Word. Hearing involves that we are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to wrath - understanding that our wrath doesn’t work the righteousness of God.
Then we saw that we need to be doers of the word. That we need to look into the word like a mirror and do what the Bible tells us.
Well, here’s your first chance to be a doer of the word in vv. 26-27.
The definition and practice of true religion is seen here but also that true religions is seen in a lifestyle of obedience to God - this will become the recurring theme of the next four chapters.
In a sense these two verses set the agenda for the rest of the book.
James 1:26–27 AV
26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

1. Controlling our Tongue

The first test of religion is how we use our tongue.

A. The Appearance of Religion

There are many things that we think that are right but are not.
If any man....
Proverbs 14:12 AV
12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
James is dealing with people who think they are pretty religious - that they are saintly already.
They seem to be or appear to be religious. They’ve glanced in the mirror of the Word but not really looked into the perfect law of liberty -
There are many things that can make us think we are religious and pious - remember the pharisees?

B. The Deception of the Tongue

Psalm 39:1 AV
1 I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.
Failure to control our speech means that we are really deceiving ourselves.
Spurgeon said that "An unbridled tongue indicates a godless heart."
The bridle pictures one who is guided or restrained in their speech. But this person is one who is habitually unbridled - always saying what they think. They think they know more than everyone else.
During the Battle of Spotsylvania in the Civil War, Union general John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. At one point he came to a parapet, over which he gazed out in the direction of the enemy. His officers suggested that this was unwise and perhaps he ought to duck while passing the parapet. “Nonsense,” snapped the general. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” As the words left his mouth, Sedgwick fell to the ground, mortally wounded.
James 1:22 AV
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
Speaking and not doing; is the same as hearing and not doing; a deception of yourself.
James is warning those that believe that as long as they don’t actively break God’s commands they are off the hook.

C. The Value of That Religion

Vain - worthless, empty. Vanity is often used to describe idolatry.
Romans 1:21 AV
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Ephesians 4:17 AV
17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
So here, people that don’t control their tongue are no better than idolators. Worshiping their own selves and opinions, ultimately deceiving themselves.
Galatians 6:3 AV
3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
But all they have here is a passive religion, an inactive religion, they assert faith but it is void and worthless.
Thus religion without control of the tongue, and even the next two is nothing.

2. Compassion for the Helpless

But not only should there be self-control there should some outward action as well.
Remind of the context of the perfect law of liberty - liberty to serve one another. The call of liberty under the law is to love the Lord and love one another.

A. Reflects a Genuine Religion

James tells us straightway about true or pure religion. Now for us today, religion is a loaded word. People often say they’re against organized religion. (which is dumb) Any religion has to be somewhat organized.

The words “religious” (v. 26) and “religion” (v. 27) are rare in the NT (Acts 26:5; Col. 2:18); and for much the same reason that many Christians avoid them.

Acts 26:5 AV
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
But man has had a way of messing up religion. What is religion then?
Religion is the outward expression of faith and worship.
Our personal faith manifest in the outward plane - faith on the outside! Religion is a faith that unites us to God through Christ but relates us also to our fellow men and women.
Pure religion means it’s not mixed with anything else - no motive other than the desire to please God.
Religion is the ethical reflection of the character of God - his wisdom, his fatherhood, his purity. Baker

B. Attends to Real Needs

Taking care of widows and orphans is a genuine concern of God’s from ancient times as well.
Exodus 22:22 AV
22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.
Deuteronomy 14:29 AV
29 And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.
Isaiah 1:17 AV
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
In ancient times, widows would have had very little option for making money and there certainly would have not been much in the way of social welfare - in those days widows and orphans were truly helpless.
It’s certainly no accident that James refers to ‘God the Father’ here. This is revealing his character of love and concern for his children. To minister to orphans and widows is to be the hands, the feet, the heart of the Father.
And if we are genuinely religious we should bear the same fatherly character of God.
To visit - means to examine the state of affairs of something, to look after or to oversee. The idea of visiting is more than just making a social call.
Their affliction - their distress - to crush, press, real hardship, squeezed beneath the weight. When we see women, children, and the alienated running for their lives it should do something in the heart of a Christian.
Another test of pure religion is how we help the widows, orphans, immigrants, poor, handicapped, and homeless.

3. Pursuing Holiness

While true religion involves social action it is not limited to that. While the gospel we claim should have social action, there also needs to be a spiritual purity.

A. The Action Involved

Keep - guard. The Bible frequently teaches us to keep close watch over our ways.
Psalm 34:13 AV
13 Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.
James 3 will pursue this even more.
Well how do we guard ourselves from the world - should we leave it? Go into hiding, build a compound, isolate ourselves? Should we be reclusive?
Of course not - we have to in the world, but we are not of the world. We don’t have to act like them.
It means we avoid thinking and acting in accordance with the world’s value system. We are in danger of having the world’s philosophies rub off on us.
We can show the love of God to people without necessarily approving of their actions.

B. The Character Involved

Unspotted from the world - the world refers to the ungodly worldview and lifestyle of humanity in opposition to God.
This is characteristic of Christ.
1 Peter 1:19 AV
19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
2 Peter 3:14 AV
14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
Paul teaches us not to be conformed to the world.
It’s an interesting balance - helping socially those in need in the world, but not being like the world. We don’t balance this very well.
It seems that either we’re super social justice and holiness doesn’t matter, or we’re so ‘holy’ that we’re no earthly good. Ultimately, however, to be truly effective in dealing with the ills of the world requires personal holiness (cf. 3:17), and genuine personal holiness entails involvement in dealing with the world’s ills.
These verses aren’t a complete list of what pleases God - but rather gives us some practical patterns to know that we are pure and undefiled religion.
Both Holiness and Social Responsibility are necessary for genuine faith on the outside; and certainly in the midst of everything we must control our tongues - a soon angry man with a loose tongue has an empty, worthless religion.
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