The Balance Of Pure Religion

James 1:27 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.

James is opposed to a lazy Christianity. Throughout his writings he promotes the notion that Christian faith is an active faith. God's work in our lives flows from our work in His life. In this passage he teaches that Christian growth comes from active Christian experience. Simply put, good works produce spiritual change in our lives.

The word religion as used here is the practical behavior that springs from devotion to and worship of God. I will use it in that sense throughout this post. The word “visit” means: to go see a person with helpful intent. Affliction means: suffering brought on by outward circumstances. "Keep" is a word for personal discipline.

In previous verses James had highlighted the self-deception in religion that is so common among us, so in this verse he plainly states what pure God-accepted religion looks like so there can be no personal deception or mistake.

The two phrases that end this great verse are not connected by “and” in the text. Literally it says, “ To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, to keep himself unspotted from the world.” I point this out to illustrate the fact that these are not two independent actions. They are deeply associated with each other and the order is by design. One springs from the other.

Personal religious discipline that does not come from compassionate action is self-delusion. Probably one of the most common self-delusions. The self-test is easy: Does my personal religious discipline rise from my visits to help struggling orphans and widows? If I have never visited and/or helped orphans and widows then the answer is obvious, and my personal discipline may be cold and harsh because it does not flow from overwhelmed compassion. Read Jesus' comments in Matthew 23:23-28.

There is another side to this coin. Compassionate action without personal religious discipline is another form of self-delusion. This self-test is also easy and much like the other: Have my visits to help suffering orphans and widows led to greater religious discipline in my personal life? If the answer is no then my commitment to meeting the needs of orphans and widows is probably more about myself than them. Read Jesus' comments in Matthew 6:1-4.

When my personal discipline has a compassionate purpose there is balance in my soul. I will find that the needs of suffering people in this world are of such great magnitude that it overwhelms me, and the depth of religious discipline needed to fulfill the responsibility that compassion has laid upon me seems far beyond my ability. So my soul becomes overwhelmed with the burdens of love and I cry out to a God who is called Love, and who sent His son to visit me in my affliction and to keep Himself unspotted from the world. And... by sharing His burden I move closer to Him, and understand Him more than I ever have before... which leads me deeper into the struggle.

1 comment:

  1. The "inner religious discipline" that relates to compassionate acts of mercy to widows and orphans is later described in James 3:13-18 as a wisdom from above, in contrast to the wisdom that is earthly. Unspiritual, worldly wisdom is full of jealousy and selfish ambition, while the wisdom from above is first pure (unspotted by the world) and is full of mercy and good fruits.

    The world's ambition is further portrayed in James 4:1-4, where friendship with the world means fighting and wars due to the selfish ambition of covetous desires. Thus 4:8 says to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts, those of double mind. The pure (unspotted by the world) are those who have cleaned out the ambition and greed that wants to grasp more and more--at the expense of the poor (the widows and orphans). Those who do not visit orphans and widows might think they are religious or godly, but their greed and ambition show their religion is not pure; it is double-minded.



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