If you have ever worked a secular job or had much interaction with unsaved people then you have probably earned the title of being “religious.” You may have heard someone say something like, “I know you are religious but what do you think about this?” To the unsaved world, that term would probably imply their knowledge that we go to church, or perhaps that we don’t swear or drink or something along those lines.
However, in our reading today in James 1 we learn about how God defines true religion. In verses 26 and 27 we read, “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. 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.”
First of all, let’s notice what God doesn’t say is religious. No mention of church attendance, one’s giving record or even how much of a witness a person is (though obviously all of those things are important). No, instead we see three different descriptions of a truly religious person in the eyes of God. James first notes in verse 26 that if a man can not control his tongue then his religion is vain, or empty worthless. How often do we “religious” people allow ourselves to say things that we later regret? In those instances, we are being more of a hypocrite than exhibiting true religion.
In verse 27, James then mentions that true religion will be marked by visiting the “fatherless and widows in their affliction.” I think it’s safe to extend that notion out to anyone that is in need, particularly those without family to help take care of them. Sometimes we as Baptists tend to overlook the physical/felt needs of others and only try to meet spiritual needs but we should look out for opportunities to help those in physical need. Then we read that true religion also involves keeping ourselves “unspotted” from the world. That word unspotted has the idea of being unpolluted or unstained by the world system we live in but to instead live holy lives in this fallen world. So the question we each need to answer today is how truly religious are we?