Now James gets down to brass tacks and tells us exactly what “pure religion” looks like. By way of aside, I notice today (and have for a long time) that evangelicals don’t like the word, “religion.” They seem to equate it with ceremonialism, works-righteousness, or even just plain going to church. They think that “religion” is the opposite of “relationship,” as if it were an either/or proposition. To sum, “religion” is simply another word for practice; religion is what Christians do. In other words, prayer, devotional reading, Bible study, church attendance, doing nice things for people—all of these things make up what is called, “religion,” and all of these things deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps evangelicals fear the word because of assumptions about negative connotations the word may have in the minds of unbelievers. In that case, we are letting pagans define words for us, and that is something I am completely unwilling to allow.
Whatever the case, James wasn’t afraid of the word. He uses it in exactly the way we have defined. True religion, or a practice of the faith that is full of integrity—which is the same thing—is characterized at the very least by these three things: bridling one’s tongue, keeping one’s soul unstained by the world, and relieving widows and orphans in their distress. These deeds of pure religion are the very deeds whereby one may fairly judge their relationship with God. Are we able to guard our tongues in this “social media” world? Do we shun the temptations and filth the world throws at us through the “entertainment” industry and thus keep our hearts and minds pure? Are we about the tasks of mercy that so many need from our discretionary income? In short, your relationship with God is not proven by how good you feel after you pray or even the amount of conviction you feel for sin you’ve committed.
James comes with hammer, and he’s not afraid to use it. For James, Christianity is a faith whereby if one will examine himself to see if he be truly of that faith, he will check both his personal life to see that he is not being influenced by the world to evil thoughts or deeds—and then his “mission” life to see if he is about the task of loving his neighbor by seeking out the unfortunate and lowly and associating with them and meeting needs in appropriate ways. And Christians cannot allow secular and governmental agencies to take these ministries away from them. The very uniqueness of our works of mercy is that we do them in the name of Christ, be they individual and personal or through the creation of our own ministries.