This sermon is part of a series called Faith in Action as we are going through the Letter of James.
James wrote this letter to the exiled Jews who are scattered. James is writing out of concern for their spiritual well-being, and the letter is a set of practical instruction on how to live out their faith amid trial, sufferings and uncertainties.
Last sermon we saw James giving instructions on how not to deceive themselves by becoming only hearers and not doers. In today’s passage, he is helping them understand the difference between true and false religion.
In verse 26 he writes “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
You may ask why James is talking about the speech as he is referring to the tongue. To know this, we have to understand the context in which James has been brought up and is living.
James lived in a religious culture, predominantly a Jewish culture which was primarily headed by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. And even though some of them may have been genuine, they were mostly known to be as cold, legalistic, prideful, arrogant and talkative.
They were just like our politicians, who make big promises before the elections but after the election fail to keep the promises. Politicians generally are also known as people who are good at talking, but when it came to acting upon real issues that people go through, they shut themselves up.
Therefore when Jesus was on earth, he was very hard on these people and even called out their sin in public. You can imagine the influence of these people when you hear how they treated Jesus and put him to death by badly influencing the Roman government at that time.
Here, in our passage, James writing to a group of people who seem to have been influenced by such a religious culture and therefore now acting like them. Basically all TALKS and no ACTION.
And, therefore, in verse 26, he is writing to them that if you think by talking only that you become religious and that God is ok with that, then you are mistaken. He says, this kind of religion is worthless.
Brothers & sisters, at this point it’s easy for us to think about this group and condemn them for their attitude and action, and completely ignore that fact that we too behave in a similar manner, and sometimes even worse.
We too behave cold, legalistic, prideful – performing Godly activities as a sense of duty to show ourselves good externally – showing people how good of a Christian we are using words only, minus the action.
James goes on to explain what true religion should look like. He says in verse 27, true religion is that which shows genuine care and concern for the people and a life that is not stained by the cultures of the world.
In James’s times, the orphan and the widows were the most needy ones and therefore he is mentioning them to make a point. It doesnt mean that we now make add charity towards orphan and widows by donating some money and doing some Christian activities around them to make ourselves feel better and more religious.
We must catch the heart of what James is telling us. The needy in our context could be different. In fact, in the city of Mumbai, we can find all kinds of needy people with various types of need. And apart for just the necessities, what they also need the most is the Gospel.
Therefore tur religion is more than just giving big talks about what is right and wrong, holy and unholy, right and wrong. True religion is that which even compels us to do something about it in actual action.
And true religion is one that is unstained by the worldly patters and traditions and way of life. Its the one that truly seeks God and His Kingdom.
Brothers & sisters, here’s the truth. In our natural being, we can never live out such a perfect life on own, our natural tendencies will always yield us to become people who talk and do nothing. Why? Because we have a problem.
The day we were created by our heavenly Father, he didn’t mean for us to become like this. He wanted us to look perfect in all ways, holy just as He is Holy, but in the Garden of Eden we messed it up.
We used our gift of free will, and instead of walking in obedience to God, we rebelled and sinned, and the result was separation from God. And because of that separation, we all are broken inside. The reason we all behave in selfish ways is that Sin has corrupted us, and even though our hearts desire to live to please God in all manners, our flesh pulls us away from seeking a Godly life.
And the only way to fix this problem is to repent of sins and trust on the Son of God who is the only one who didn’t just talk and make big promises in the air but fulfilled each of His promises to save us from our wretchedness and restore that broken relationship with God the Father.
Christ left His heavenly Glory to reach out to needy people like us, people who needed hope, peace, joy – which only a restored relationship with the Father can grant us.
Jesus lived the perfect life, exercised true religion, one that was acceptable to God and earned His righteousness for our sake and then exchanged it with our unrighteous and sinful lives, taking the penalty of our sin upon himself and in giving us total freedom from Sin and captivating our hearts with His Love and compelling us to know to live a godly life by the help and power of His Spirit in us.
Therefore, our response today towards this passage is primarily to look to Jesus and His saving grace – captivated by His Love, affections and forgiveness He grants us. And we do that; His love will compel us to people who are not just talkers but doers of His words, living a Godly life that is truly acceptable to God.
As a child of God, the question we need to ask daily is not how good a Christian I be, but how good a Jesus lover I am. Because loving Jesus day-by-day will automatically produce the fruits of true religion in us. We won’t have to strive to look like a good Christian, Christ’s Love will automatically compel us to show genuine care for the needy and will also protect our hearts from becoming stained by the world.