“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 1:27, ESV)
Sometimes we hear that what we believe is not as important as that we are sincere in what we believe. Religion before God, however, addresses both aspects. We are to believe what God has told us in the Bible and we are to hold fast to it in conviction and practice. One of the marks of saving faith is a gravitational pull of the heart to the truth of God and God of truth.
James speaks of religion that is “pure and undefiled.” He comes at it both positively and negatively. James calls us to hold to an unblemished, uncompromised, wholesome, authentic faith. In a word, we are called to integrity. Integrity carries the dual sense of completeness and consistency.
As Paul put it: “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)” (Eph. 5:8–9). Our doing is to be consistent with our being, which is to be uncorrupted by the state of darkness in which we found ourselves prior to God’s regenerating grace.
James spells religion out for us in practical terms: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (v. 27). At first blush, it sounds like James is reducing Christianity to behavior. Yet that is the same tact taken by our Lord Jesus at the final judgment (Matt. 25:34-40) in referring to those who inherit the kingdom prepared for them “from the foundation of the world.” He speaks in terms of boots on the ground rather than pie in the sky.
True religion before God distinguishes true believers from the world that neither knows nor serves Jesus Christ. We are to live unstained from the world, living fully consecrated to Christ. Showing mercy, living morally, and embracing truth do nothing to save us. Our salvation is not accomplished by our religion. Rather, it is accomplished by our Redeemer, in whom alone our faith is founded.
“Father, as You have saved me through faith in Christ, help me to serve You by grace through faith in Christ.”