World English Bible translation
1:26If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn't bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man's religion is worthless. 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations." "Blessed is the man that endures temptations." Be doers of the word of God that Christ Jesus planted in you. If a man hears the word and does not follow its instruction, it profits him nothing. But blessed is he that hears and then goes straightway to accomplish what the word has given him to do. This direct correlation between one's inner faith and one's outward response is consistent throughout this epistle, as it no doubt was consistent within the life of the writer. So it is that the passage encouraging his readers to be doers of the word is directly followed with the passage describing the religious duty a man owes in response to faith.
As used in this passage, religion is the outward, ceremonial expression of the soul. Religion is very important to James. It does not seem to be a word imbued with either positive or negative connotations. Religion itself is neither good nor bad. Its worth comes from the expression of the heart of the believer. Thus, some types of religious expression are "pure" while others, inferred by contrast only, are deemed impure. A man may think his religion "pure" and be deceived. In such a case, the man with impure religion would be deceiving himself. Such a man was Cain, the first son who slew his brother. His sacrifice to God was unacceptable, probably because of the state of his own heart. He harbored jealousy and envy (toward Able or toward God?) and because his religion was not pure, his sacrifice was not acceptable.
James has written that temptations do not come from God. Blessed is the man that endures temptation, but let no man who is tempted say that his temptations come from God. God's gifts are pure, and without shadow (sin) just as God is. The temptations come from the evil that is within our own heart. It is not what a man puts into his body that makes him unclean, it is what a man has within his own heart that makes him unclean.
In the same way, a man's religion is proven to be pure or unclean based upon what is in his heart. The unbridled tongue demonstrates the unclean heart. Concerning what it means to have an unbridled tongue and the dangers of a man's tongue James will write about later extensively. For now let us concentrate on the effects of the sin in the heart on the religious expression within a man's life.
Pure religion, then, is that outward expression that best conveys the new life that Christ has planted in us. Pure religion must be a manifestation of Christ because the new life that has been planted within us the very life of Christ. Therefore, pure religion is synonymous with the expression of the life of Christ. "Visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."
It is my own personal belief that James is not expressing here the totality of everything that he believes pure religion entails. This is the starting place. This is the beginning of religious expression. Help those who are weaker, who are helpless. Keep yourself unstained from the sin that exists around you. If you begin here, you can begin to live the life that Christ wants to manifest in your world.
Why do we help those that are powerless? God gives us everything that we need for life and godliness. We are not dependent on the things of this world or the people that inhabit it. Our daily provision and the strength we need for every moment in life comes from the Father. What He has given to us, He wishes us to share with others. God wants us to share His blessings and glories with all mankind, but we are to begin with those that are powerless. God looks after the poor and the helpless through those that are willing to be His hands and feet. He is our Lord and Master. Where He wishes us to serve, we must serve. The heart of God reaches out to those that need Him most, widows and orphans. Those who belong to the Lord will express His heart in this world.
Those who belong to the Lord will also keep themselves unstained by the world just as He was unstained by it. Although He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, there was no sin in Him. He lived among us. He welcomed sinners to His table and embraced those with unclean diseases. Even so, the stains of this world did not touch Him. Nor can it touch the life that He has planted in us.
"Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." In this way, the life of Christ is daily renewed in His creation.
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