People can claim to be Christians when in reality their religion is useless. They may attend all of the church assemblies and other activities; they may wear a necklace with a gold cross; they may give generously to the church; they may use the accepted words that Christians use. But their profession of religion may be false. Since God is the judge and the one who knows the true heart of each individual, you and I should be careful in making judgements. But James gave a simple test to evaluate ourselves in James 1:26-27 “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
A person may deceive himself, thinking that his religion is genuine. But James says that if He does not bridle his tongue, his religion is useless. To bridle the tongue is to control what is said so that only good, kind, edifying words are spoken. However, a person may also say evil, hateful, judgmental words. He may gossip and destroy his neighbor with his words. He may lie or be deceptive in what he says. Jesus said in Matthew 12:33-36 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” The fruit of the lips demonstrates what is in the heart. The first part of the test of James is to evaluate the words that come out of the mouth.
The second part of James’ test for pure and undefiled religion is to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. God has always had a special concern for orphans and widows. For example He gave the following commandment to the Israelites in Exodus 22:22-24 “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” Orphans and widows are typically individuals with great needs. When James says to visit the orphans and the widows in their trouble, I understand that he is saying to help them and supply their needs. The desire to help them should be motivated by love and mercy.
Should your desire to love and help others be limited to orphans and widows? I don’t think so. Jesus gave a description of the judgement in Matthew 25:34-36 “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’” I also do not think that our desire to love and help others should be limited to those who are hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and in prison. John says that your heart should be open to those in need. 1 John 3:17 “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
The final part of James’ test is to keep oneself unspotted from the world. Perhaps you can think of yourself walking down a muddy road. A motor vehicle comes along and splashes mud on you; you now have spots of mud all over your clothes. In a sense, you have just become spotted by the world. But I think that James is not talking about mud, but instead is talking about the activities and sins of the world. We are in the world but we should not be of the world. This is what Jesus prayed to the Father: John 17:14-16 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” I understand that being of the world or being spotted by the world is to participate in the sinful practices of the world and to be like the people of the world who have no faith in God. Even though we are in the world, we should not love the world or the things in the world. 1 John 2:15-17 “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 lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
Instead of being spotted by the world, seek to be pure for God. Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22 “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Mathew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” Because of the hope that we have, we should be motivated to be pure. 1 John 3:2-3 “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
I encourage you to test yourself with the test that James gave and make corrections as necessary. Do you control your tongue? Do you freely help those in need? Do you keep yourself unspotted from the world?