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Wednesday AM Bible Study Archives

 

"Pure Religion"
James 1:27

Wednesday AM Bible Study
June 11, 2003

Pastor James has been talking to his readers about "religion". What does "religion" look like in practice? In verse 26, Pastor James sets forth a 'negative' with respect to "religion": what a man must not do, and so not be hurting others and making his religion worthless. But in verse 27, he sets forth a 'positive' with respect to "religion": what a man must do to do good to others in a active, practical sense, and thus prove his religious life to be "pure and undefiled".

Consider Jesus' parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In it, He illustrates an important principle in His kingdom - and shows us a danger we as believers often face. Read this story and you'll see that the "wicked" servant in His story didn't misappropriate what His master entrusted to him; in fact, he gave it back in full. What was "wicked" about the servant's actions was that he didn't do anything productive with it. Similarly, we can think that, if we simply don't do certain evil things, we're pleasing to God. Yet in fact, we've done evil in that we've done nothing. We've, as it were, hidden our talent in the ground. God is not pleased with that.

In several places in the Bible, God calls us to not only a negative, "don't do" aspect in our walk with Him; but also a positive, "do" aspect as well (Psalm 18:20-24; Micah 6:6-8; Daniel 4:27; Eph. 4:22-32). This same principle is held out to us in James 1:27. It's not enough to just not do evil; we must also be doing good. As my wife sometimes says whenever I start talking about some famous preacher or heady theologian; "Sure, that's all great; but what I want to know is does he pick up his socks?"

I. OUR "RELIGION" MUST BE "PURE" AND "UNDEFILED".
"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this ..."

A. The word James uses for "religious" is one that refers to outward expressions of religion. He isn't talking about someone being a Christian, because that involves an inward transformation. A Christian is someone who has been transformed because Jesus lives in them. To call somone a Christian is to refer to what someone is (see John 1:12-13). But the word James uses, thrÍskos, speaks of what someone "does" (see Acts 26:5 as an example).

B. James' concern for us is that this religion be "pure and undefiled". Both words are meant to express the same thing; one positively and the other negatively. When we speak of something as "pure and undefiled", we mean that there's nothing mixed in with it that will lower its quality - that it's the real and essential thing. "Religion" that is "pure and undefiled" would mean acts of religious practice that are the "real and essential" outward demonstration of a reverent attitude toward God and of a heart that's truly touched by His grace - with nothing in it that would lower its quality.

C. But note further that it must be "pure and undefiled in the sight of our God and Father". Our "religion" can measure up to a standard that satisfies us that it's "pure and undefiled". But we can be deceived in this (see v. 26). It must be pure and undefiled - not in our own sight, but in the sight of "God" (which points us to the sort of God He is - Psalm 103:6-12); and "our Father" (which points us to His compassion and mercy - Psalm 103:13-14).

D. How is it with your religion? - your outward acts of prayer, worship, giving, Bible reading, church attendance, etc.? Is it "pure and undefiled" in the sense that it's the essential and real thing; and that there's nothing in it that lessons its quality? And if you can say that it is, would our God and Father agree?

II. TO BE "PURE" AND "UNDEFILED", IT MUST INVOLVE TWO BROAD CHARACTERISTICS.
"... to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

A. First, it must be characterized by an open hand to those in need: "... to visit orphans and widows in their distress ..." To "visit" is a figure of speech for coming to someone in their need and doing what is necessary to minister comfort and relief to them. The word itself means "to look at" or "select" (see Acts 6:3, where it is translated "seek out" or "select"; and Luke 1:78, where it may be translated "rise upon"). To "visit" those in need implies effort on our part; and in this case, it's directed toward those who are the weakest and most needy - and least capable of doing anything in return. It's a vivid way of describing practical acts of mercy and kindness.

B. But second, for religion to be "pure and undefiled", it must also be characterized by a holy life: "to keep oneself unstained by the world." It keeps itself free from the sinful draw of this world system (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; see also Isaiah 52:11). This is of course what many people think it means to be "religious" - that is, to not do evil. But it must always be seen in the context of also positively doing what is good. Some folks have an open hand in relation to the needs of others, but an unholy grasp on the lusts of this world. Others have a holy life in relation to the world, but keep a tightly closed hand toward those in need. It's necessary that both things be occurring for religion to be "pure and undefiled".

C. James' words about these two "characteristics" is not meant to say all that's involved in true religion. It doesn't, for example, mention faith or worship or humility or prayer. Rather, these two characteristics encompass two main areas in relation to our contacts with others for as long as we're on earth; and they show up the hypocrisy of someone who is simply "deceiving themselves" and whose "religion" is a mere show.

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