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BECOME A MEMBER TODAY! JULY'S VERSE: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” — Psalm 103:12

Is Your Religion Pure and Faultless?: Part 2
by Jen Oshman

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." — James 1:27

James is concerned with both our outward behavior and our inward beliefs. For James, the Christian life must be holistic and unified. James says we who follow Christ must tend to both the external and internal elements of our faith. 

In last week’s devotional we considered James’s instructions to look after orphans and widows in their distress. We noted that James offers us a sort of test for our faith. He says if our religion is real—if it’s pure and faultless—then we will care for those who are vulnerable. Our outward behavior provides some evidence for our genuine Christian faith. 

Look After Others, but Also Keep Yourself 

But James’s test for real faith is not only outwardly focused. Followers of Jesus must also tend to their inward hearts, minds, and souls. James doesn’t allow his readers to fall into an either/or Christian faith. He says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27, italics mine.)

Perhaps you’re like me and you have found that at various stages of your Christian life one or the other has come more easily. I have experienced seasons of great zeal which manifested in social action: taking mission trips, serving in impoverished communities, participating in pro-life rallies at the capitol. I’ve also experienced seasons of great zeal which manifested in deep internal work: attending seminary, fasting, reading, and praying with urgency. 

As a diverse people, we Christians have varied personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. We who are quick to act may get frustrated with those who pause to think. Or we who love to ponder may wonder at the urgency of our activist siblings. But our God calls all of us to all of the above! He says hear the Word and do the Word (James 1:22.) Be a Christian and do Christian things. God wants us to be unified on the inside and the outside. 

Avoiding Worldly Pollution

James says our “pure and faultless” faith will be proven, not only by our outward actions, but also by our inward holiness—by keeping “[ourselves] from being polluted by the world.” Holiness is not the way to be saved, but it is evidence of our genuine salvation. (See Ephesians 2:1-10 for a reminder that our salvation is a gift of grace through faith.)

Holiness—or abstaining from worldliness—is an important theme in the book of James because it’s important to God. A couple chapters after our memory verse, James says, “don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4.) Friendship in James’s context was far more intimate than it is in ours. He’s not referring to Facebook friends, but friendships that share both physical and spiritual connection and depth. As followers of Jesus we are prohibited from unifying ourselves to the world. 

James even goes so far as to say those who choose friendship with the world are adulterers (James 4:4.) We betray God, or we cheat on God, he says, when we choose the world over him. God demands our complete inward allegiance. As Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30.) 

The Apostle John illustrates what worldly living might look like. In 1 John 2:15–16, he instructs, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

Like James, John admonishes Christians to tend to their inward lives. He wants us to control our carnal desires, consider carefully what we allow our eyes to see, and reign in our own self-sufficiency and pride. The world encourages us to give in and even feed these things, but John, James, and even Jesus say if we pursue them, we don’t actually love the Father and we are against him. 

But How Do We Actually Do This? 

As with looking after orphans and widows in their distress, the command to keep oneself from being polluted by the world can feel overwhelming. After all, we live in the world. We work here, we have hobbies and friendships and commitments here. We are soaking in the influence of pop culture, politics, and our friends and families. Keeping ourselves untouched by the world feels impossible. 

James also offers us instruction here (I think James may be the most practical book in all of Scripture!). Just before our memory verse, he says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:22–25). 

When we read the Bible it’s like looking in a mirror. God’s Word tells us about ourselves. James wants us to read the Word intently and apply it to our lives. Studying the Bible and living it out will lead to freedom. As we do what God’s Word says, we will be blessed in what we do. 

No doubt, we will fail. And thankfully, James accounts for that too. Just after his exhortation that friendliness with the world is enmity toward God, James says, “But [God] gives us more grace…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:6, 10). God promises to help us. He does not stand far off, demanding perfection. He gives grace. He lifts us up. Ultimately, “Mercy triumphs” (James 2:13).

We who follow Jesus want to practice a religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless. We don’t want to just go through the motions—we want real faith! James says check yourself. Do you love the vulnerable? Do you abstain from the world? When we fall short, may we return to the Word and receive God’s grace. Brothers and sisters, may we be propelled by God’s triumphant mercy to excel in our love for others and our love for God.

Jen Oshman

Jen Oshman has been in women’s ministry for over two decades on three continents. She’s the author of Enough about Me, Cultural Counterfeits, and Welcome. Jen hosts a weekly podcast about cultural events and trends called All Things, and is the mother of four daughters. Jen's family currently resides in Colorado, where they planted Redemption Parker.

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