26 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.
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.
The Word “Religion” in the Bible
The word “Religion” only appears in the Bible five times. The word “Religious” appears twice. The idea of Religion appears throughout the Bible.
The word “Religion” as used by James in our text comes from the Greek word, “threskeia” and means, “the worship, ceremony, devotion, discipline, and reverence” of God. Religion is a ceremonial observance that can be directed toward God or any other object of affection.
The Apostle Paul used the word “Religion” once in the book of Acts when he gave his testimony to Agrippa. He said, “after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5). As used in this manner the word also referred to the discipline that Paul had adhered to as a Pharisee.
Twice in the book of Galatians Paul also used the word in reference to the “Jew’s religion”. In this case the qualifier of the word is “Jew’s” and the “religion” here refers specifically to the Jew’s practices and ceremonies.
The Apostle Luke also referred to “Jews and religious proselytes” that had converted to Christianity in Acts 13:43. The “religious proselytes” were those that were not born of Jewish blood but had converted to Jewish observances.
In all of the instances the word “Religion” and “Religious” refer to a code that people live by in order to please and worship. In many cases the word “Religion” itself was neither negative nor positive – it was just used to explain a systematic devotion and observance to a particular creed. The movement may have been negative but the word itself was not. Today the word religion has taken on a mixed review of sorts, and in many cases the word is used in a negative sense to refer to people that blindly follow a creed or dogma without any true relationship with God.
Religion: God or Satan?
Is God against religion? Does God support religion? How about Satan? Does Satan hate religion? Or does Satan promote religion?
It all depends on what you are referring to when you talk about religion. God is not against spiritual service, devotion, worship, discipline, and even a limited use of ceremony. After all, God spoke the Law to Moses and created the Jewish Religion. We in the Church still partake of The Lord’s Supper and Water Baptism, both of which are rich in ceremony.
When Jesus came to earth and condemned the Jewish Religion, it was not the original teachings of the Law that he was condemning, but rather it was all of the things that man had added. The Pharisees and Sadducees had turned God’s teachings into a yoke that no one could carry. When Paul referred to his former religion under the Pharisee’s as “the most straitest sect” he was referring to man-made religion. God is against all man-made religion. Most of what see today of Religion has nothing to do with God or the Bible, it is purely a product of man’s invention.
Religion can even be Non-Christian. We see this in the case of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Confucius, and Moonies. All of these groups engage in ceremonial observances and participate in some type of code of behavior.
Even most so-called “Christian Religions” of today are totally devoid of spiritual teachings conducive to true spirituality yet they are filled with ceremonial observances that claim Biblical support. This is the case with Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, and on and on.
Even Religious Movements founded on sound doctrine and Biblical principles can spiral downward into religious death and destruction. Some Pentecostal denominations have good churches and bad churches. The bad churches are the ones that have resorted to man-centered ideas instead of adhering to the teachings of the Bible, and these churches take on a religious context more than a Christian context, they devolve into a “form of godliness that denies the power thereof.”
Religion: Negative or Positive?
Today we often refer to “Religion” as a negative concept, and often this is the case. Religion can be negative. Religion can also be positive. In most cases in the Bible, religion certainly is negative. Usually man gets in the way of serving God and adds his own ideas and requirements. This corrupts the idea of serving God in a religious capacity and makes it a negative concept. But religion can also be positive.
Religion will only be positive if it adheres to the Word of God. Once religion departs from the Word of God it becomes a man-made, man-centered institution that can only go downward.
Where Paul referred to the “Jew’s religion”, James refers to “Pure Religion”. In this instance religion is most certainly a positive thing. James gives us the two pillars that all “Pure Religion” must rest upon.
Vain Religion & Pure Religion
In our text James talks about two very different kinds of religion. James makes it clear that there is “Vain Religion” and “Pure Religion”.
Vain means that it is worthless. That it has no value. That it is a waste. What makes Religion vain? Man! It is the actions of misguided individuals that corrupt religion. A man that does not bridle his tongue makes his religion vain. This means that all of the services he attends, all of the money he gives, all of the ceremonies he performs, all of the requirements he fulfills will not save him if he cannot bridle his tongue! The vain religious person is deceived! He is fooling himself. He is not fooling God.
On the other hand there is “Pure Religion”. The word pure signifies that it is in its original state. That it is uncorrupted. Uncorrupted by what? Man! Flesh! The carnal! Religion in its original, uncorrupted, pure state is Holy unto the Lord!
James lists two pillars that all “Pure Religion” must rest upon. By no means was James saying that Pure Religion only consists of these two things, but James was making it clear that if it were Bible Religion it would have these two things at heart.
The Two Pillars of Pure Religion
The first quality of pure religion is Love. James said, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…”. Everyone that has a true walk with God will walk in love. Pure religion will cause you to reach out to those in need, in this case it is the fatherless and the widows, but it could be others. Now James is not just saying that helping others guarantees that it is “Pure Religion” but “Pure Religion” will most definitely care about others. Love is the hallmark of the Christian faith. Love that guides us, love that compels us, and love that motivates us is an essential ingredient in every Christians life. This love requires that we speak the truth:
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
And who could forget these scriptures?
35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
The second pillar of pure religion is Holiness. James says this in our opening text, “and to keep himself unspotted from the world”. There will be a difference between those that belong to the Lord and those that do not. It is not just a difference for differences’ sake but it is a better kind of life. We will live morally pure lives. We will treat people better. We will have a better attitude. We will not be involved in questionable practices. We will shun all things that appear evil. We will avoid any worldly entanglements. We will consider our fellow man in what we say and do, how we dress, where we go. Holiness is not just what we wear but it is how we wear it!
1 John 3:8-11
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.