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True Religion is Pure and Undefiled - James 1:27
Life Lessons from the Book of James
Welcome back to Life Lessons from the Book of James.
If you have been following this study from the beginning: James chapter one congratulation! Today is the completion of a careful examination of one chapter from God's word.
Today's subject matter will once again require an up-close and personal examination of your heart.
As you read this verse note how the word Religion is defined.
James 1:27 - 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.
The MESSAGE version below will help to expose some deeper shades of meaning.
James 1:27 - Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
Come along for the end of our journey through James chapter one where we will:
- Analyze the word Religion
- Consider what it means to live out a religion that is pure and undefiled
- See what God considers evidence of an undefiled heart
- Seek to understand what it means to keep ourselves from being stained by the world.
Read? Set? Let's Go!
What comes to your mind when you hear the word Religion? To be honest, I do not like the word Religion. Why? Because of all the connotations connected to that word.
The word Religion is an umbrella for all kinds of beliefs which, many times, contradict each other. Religion represents a system of do's and don't's that judge harshly and hypocritically.
There are many people today who use the word Religion to describe what they practice. The applications and meaning for that word are so varied that it is impossible to understand what the person implies when stating they are religious.
In James 1:27 the word Religion has descriptors attached. The type of religion being described, in this context, is no ordinary religion. This religion is not marked by tradition, ceremonies, rules etc. It is a religion that is marked by a changed heart. It is pure and undefiled. It passes the muster with God the Father.
Blessed Are the Pure in Heart
Pure and Undefiled
So let us take a moment to shine God's spotlight on our own heart. As you examine the motives and intents held within your heart would you describe them as pure and undefiled?
Perhaps these three questions will help you focus on that question with more clarity:
- Do you desire to help others because your heart holds compassion and reaches out to help a soul in need?
- Is your act of service blemished by motives that are impure or defiled. For instance, do you serve those in need in order to ease your conscience? Or perhaps the underlying motive you help others is pride. Deep down inside (perhaps on a subconscious level) you do it to put a 'feather in your cap' so to speak, so you can tell others of the 'good deeds' you performed?
- Do you reach out as a duty or to avoid guilt? Perhaps following the letter of the law (instead of the Spirit of the Law?)
- Do you help others to gain favor with God, to complete your checklist of good deeds thinking, 'surely God will smile down on me.'
The questions above weigh the motives and intent of the heart revealing the type of religion you practice.
Now let's get down and dirty and practical.
Widows and Orphans
I invite you to enter into a couple of scenarios. The first takes place in a Church.
Scenario #1 A faithful widow sits down in a pew. Her her heart is heavy, she doesn't know how she will feed her children this week. She works to push it all aside and prays for refreshment through the word of God. You and your family are sitting in your seats and preparing for a great time of worship. As you stand to worship you note a very bad smell coming from behind you. It is the smell of uncleanness and perspiration.
What is going on in your head? The first reaction for most of us will be repugnant. None of us likes to smell filth.
When it is time to shake hands, during worship time, do you avoid reaching out to shake the unkempt woman's hand? Maybe you do reach out but avoid eye contact. Do you really see this Widow as Jesus see's her? Think about it. She was created by the same God who created you. Jesus loves this lady as much as he loves you. Is your attitude of self-protection and superiority keeping you from seeing her as God see's her? If you harbor these thoughts how will you ever see her needs? Does that thought humble you?
Let's go deeper. Be honest with yourself because God already knows your heart. When you are at Church do you stick close to the people who define who you are? Are you class conscious? Do you avoid people less fortunate or as refined as you?
Scenario #2 Your Pastor calls and asks you if you would be willing to pick someone up on Sunday mornings? He explains that this person has no transportation but he wants to come to Church. In the course of the conversation, you realize it is the widow who sat behind you in Church last week. What is your response to the call?
You see James 1:27 makes it clear that religion that is accepted by God is defined by reaching out to those in need with pure and undefiled motives.
In this verse, widows and orphans are highlighted. Do you have Widows in your neighborhood, life or in your Church? What needs might those Widows have? For instance, A woman who has been married for 40 years suddenly finds herself without a companion, helper, lover, and friend. Do you reach out to this widow to befriend her and lift her up in her time of loss? Do you investigate to see what her financial condition is?
What needs might the orphans in your life, neighborhood or Church have? An orphan can be a child without one parent. How could you step in and be a 'Father or Mother' image to this child? Children are so very vulnerable. In fact, God is especially protective of children:
"And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea." Mark 9:42
Take time to think about your position in life, perhaps all of the ways God has blessed you. Who could benefit from your heart, your possessions, your time?
Let Me See This World Dear Lord
Guard Your Heart
Guard Against Corruption
The last part of James 1:29 tells us to keep ourselves unstained or polluted from the world.
How does the world 'stain or pollute' us? Cultural contamination is something that can be absorbed so subtly that we aren't even aware. As we live in this world it is important to know this is not our home. This world opposes the ways of God.
The best way for us to understand how the world pollutes us and what God exhorts us to do is to allow the Word of God to speak for itself; I have listed two verses to be used as a search light:
I John 2:14-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
The enemy is bent on luring you away from the one you love. You must be prepared and filled with the living word of God which gives you the power to defeat the enemies attacks.
As you have taken the time to meditate on James 1:27 did you discern some motivations within your own heart that are not pure or undefiled?
Do you want to see this world as God see's it? Do you desire to be Jesus' hands and feet to a needy generation? Is your desire a surface desire or is a deep down conviction to reach out and touch lives?
We cannot change our own heart. When the Spirit of God enters the new believer he/she is awakened to a new life but we still have a bent toward sin. The old nature is still inclined to sin as a habit that has been carefully developed for years. The enemy has his plans for the new Christian too. A change of heart is not on the enemies agenda for you.
Surrender your will to Jesus, pray for His will be done in spite of your bent toward sin. Invest time in His word realizing it is living and able to conform you to His image. God will change the heart of His child as he hungrily chases after Him.
The Bible says our lives are hidden with Christ. Picture yourself as hidden with the one who gave up everything to redeem you - Jesus in our Place. Picture yourself sheltered under His protection. You are dearly loved, so loved that He, in fact, sings over you. "The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." Zeph. 3:17
Now ask Him to give you a heart like His. Wait and see what God will do. God bless you brothers and sisters as you set your eyes on the one who is Holy and gives life both abundant and eternal.