“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 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.” James 1:26-27
Chapter 1 of James ends with a rebuke to those who are full of themselves and think themselves religious but who don’t live it out. One of James’ central themes is that our faith is to be lived out. If our faith isn’t being lived out then it is worthless, and it leaves us no better off than those who make no claim to faith.
James is clear that just thinking you are religious is not enough. There has to be evidence. It has to produce fruit in your life. Faith is not just a fire insurance policy for when we die – it should impact every aspect of how we live now. Jesus called us to take up our cross and follow Him. The Christian life isn’t about being passive, waiting for heaven. It is about the Kingdom of God invading the here and now and bringing hope and restoration to those who aren’t yet believers. And we all have a role to play in that, which means we have to live out our faith. We cannot have worthless religion – the eternal destination of too many people is at stake for us to just sit back and wait for heaven.
When you think of how we serve and worship God the immediate obvious answers are being singing praise and hymns, by spending time and prayer, and by going to church. While in and off themselves these are all good things, and we most definitely should be doing them, James makes it plain to us what God the Father is looking for above all. God desires that we visit orphans and widows in their affliction and keep ourselves unstained from the world.
This mirrors the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:34-40 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
Jesus and James both make it clear that how we live now matters. Religion that is pure and undefiled isn’t about how many bible verses we get memorised, or how many church services we attend, or how many worship albums we have or how many conferences we have been to. People can get puffed up with pride thinking they are religious through things like that. But what matters is how we treat the least of these. That is what will show if our faith is a genuine and