James 1:26-27 – Religious or Made Righteous?

Review: Believers are called to not be mere hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word.  This truth is further emphasized in James 1:26-27. 

  1. Note the contrast between “external performance” and “internal transformation”
    1. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless”— the term “religious” appears only here in James and the word “religion” (which appears elsewhere in Scripture) has a different root word than “religious.” In looking at sources outside of Scripture, the term “religious” can be defined as “rituals”. For example, one source speaks of Herodotus (5th Century B.C. Greek historian), with respect to his historical accounts, focused “mainly on the ritual and hardly on the belief underlying it.” Edwin Hatch, an English theologian in the 1800’s defined the term “religious” to refer to external observances of public worship such as church attendance, alms giving, prayer, and fasting.” Thus, one who is “religious” is one who is zealous and diligent in observing religious duties, which brings to mind the Pharisees (who are described as hypocrites!). Their religious acts are done for the purpose of getting noticed by men. See Matt 6:1-4, where Jesus rebuked those who were “practicing…righteousness before other people in order to be seen…and praised by others.” See also Luke 18:9-14, where Jesus told a parable to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.”
    2. “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”— See the account of the conversion of Paul in Acts 9 and take note of his personal testimony in Phil. 3:5-9, “being found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…” 

2. Concerning James’ description of the one who “does not bridle his tongue”— “there is an undeniable connection between how a person acts and what comes out of his mouth.” Perhaps this can refer to a believer who is struggling with the sin of having an unbridled tongue, or to one who is merely professing to believe but whose lack of genuine transformation can be seen in his not being able to bridle his tongue. If the first, then there is the call to confess to God who is faithful to forgive; and, by God’s grace, the believer is enabled to stop deceiving one’s self so that he can walk and talk in a consistent manner, pleasing unto the Lord. If the latter, then there is a call to repentance unto salvation—that is, to come to Christ who alone can declare a sinner righteous, enabling him by His Spirit to walk and talk as a child of God.  

Consider the poem: “They are looking at your walk, not listening to your talk… they’ll accept what they see and know you to be. They’ll judge from your life alone.” There has to be consistency in our talking and doing! After all—“The tree is known by its fruit.” See Luke 6:43-45. What we say reveal what is in our hearts. See James 3:9-10.

3. Note that in James 1:27, James is not defining religion or religious practices. Rather, he provides a description to teach us a deeper truth. 

  1. Taken in context, orphans and widows were individuals who had no means of support. To “visit” such individuals is a call to look after them, care for them, and to provide for them. It is important to understand that these individuals are ones who are incapable of reciprocating the good deed done unto them. To “visit” them demonstrates the kind of deed that reflects what Christ has done for us. It is  a sacrificial act, an act of unconditional love—not a mere show or “religious” performance to be able to receive something back. 
  2. Taken in context, “to keep oneself unstained from the world” is to love God. This command mirrors the two greatest commandments, for how can one keep himself from the things of this world unless he clings unto God? How can he keep himself from the love of this world, unless he loves God foremost and others as himself? Consider 1 John 2:5-6, John 15:4-7, Luke 18:18-23, Mark 12:28-3. 

Ponder: “ANYone can make himself appear to be religious, but only One can make a sinner righteous! Jesus Christ did not die on the cross so that you and I can be religious or have a religion. Christ came to offer us a relationship, making us righteous in Him.”

Ask yourself: “Have I been declared righteous? Or am I merely religious? Remember— It is not about being religious but about being declared righteous before a holy God! 

Hymn—“Only a Holy God” 

Who else commands all the hosts of heaven
Who else could make every king bow down
Who else can whisper and darkness trembles
Only a Holy God

What other beauty demands such praises
What other splendour outshines the sun
What other majesty rules with justice
Only a Holy God

Come and behold Him
The One and the Only
Cry out, sing holy
Forever a Holy God
Come and worship the Holy God

What other glory consumes like fire
What other power can raise the dead
What other name remains undefeated
Only a Holy God

Who else could rescue me from my failing
Who else would offer His only Son
Who else invites me to call Him Father
Only a Holy God
Only my Holy God!

Listen to the sermon here.

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