If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 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. James 1:26–27, ESV.
There is sentiment that floats around the church at times that says, “We don’t need religion. What we need is Jesus.” It is well intended. It is also misleading. I believe that James would counter that sentiment with a saying of greater precision. Something like, “We don’t need man-made religion. We need Jesus-shaped religion.” That is, in fact, the essence of what he is saying in the two verses before us this morning.
Man-made religion is self-absorbed. It is populated with those who think of themselves as good, religious people but do not control their speech and deceive their own hearts (see Jas 1:22-25). This kind of religion, James tells us, is worthless.
There is, however, a religion that has worth. It is Jesus-shaped religion. It is Great Commandment (Mt 22:37-40) religion. It is pure and undefiled like the spotless sacrifice the Jews were to offer in the temple. It is also pretty straight-forward in practice: care for those who need care and resist the temptation to sin (see Jas 1:12-15).
Our current circumstances demand we reconsider how to have this kind of religion, don’t they? How do we maintain a pure and undefiled religion when the events and structures we have always had in place to help us do so are removed? We will need to be creative in our religion in these days. Let me encourage you to practice some pure-religion-creativity today:
What will you do today to care for someone who needs care? Can you reach out and care without going out? Can you visit the “widow and orphan” while social distancing? No other age has been so equipped to do so! What will you do today?
What temptation to worldliness is nipping at your heels today? Is the news-o-mania sucking you into a whirlpool of anger and despair? Is your new-found family time revealing selfish traits in your own heart? What temptation will you pray about and fight against today?
I am praying that this will be a particularly good day for you—one where you practice a Jesus-shaped religion and know the joy of your Lord.