The word “Religion” doesn’t have a positive association in many circles. Why is that? A well-known Danish philosopher and theologian once said “The human race in the course of time has taken the liberty of softening and softening Christianity until at last we have contrived to make it exactly the opposite of what it in the New Testament.” Soren Kierkegaard. What does he mean by that statement? The Christian church tries at every turn or opportunity to define Christianity on our terms, instead of on the terms that God has clearly outlined in the New Testament for His church. Many Churches want church on their terms, according to our preferences that align with our lifestyles.
What does that look like for example? We are a people happy to go to church just so long nothing in our lives has to change. We are a people glad to be Christians, just so long as we can define Christianity according to what accommodates us. The only problem with that sort of thinking is that in order for Authentic Christianity (religion) to work it has to be founded and grounded on God’s terms, not ours. God’s definition of true Christianity is radically different from ours…..and that’s a good thing. Biblical “religion” is defined this way……. a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man's obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man's accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. It therefore comprehends theology, as a system of doctrines or principles, as well as practical piety; for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion.
The word “religion” occurs five times in English Standard Version of the Bible. It is, by itself, an entirely neutral word. Religion can refer to Judaism (Acts 26:5) or the Jewish-Christian faith (Acts 25:19). Religion can be bad when it is self-made (Col 2:23) or fails to tame the tongue (James 1:26). But religion can also be good when it cares for widows and orphans and practices moral purity (James 1:27). In this section of James letter we see faith and authentic Christianity put into action. A couple of question you need to ask yourself as we dive in this morning is this. Are we going to define religion on our terms and settle for a Christianity that appeals to our lifestyle? Or Are we going to submit to God’s terms for what faith, religion, and Christianity looks like in our lives, in our families, and in our church? Be careful how you answer that this morning! Martin Luther said “A religion that gives nothing, cost nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” In this section of James letter we are going to see Authentic Christianity characterized by a lifestyle of obedience to God. A lifestyle marked and shaped on God’s terms, not ours; and it begins here!
AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY IS REVEALED BY YOUR SPEECH. (v26)
Which is a proper and controlled speech, which is evidence to the sanctifying work that God is doing in your life. A controlled speech is one of the ways the fruit of the Spirit [self-control] works together in the believer. The opposite is a false understanding or misleading characteristic of false religious person [unconverted] is found in (v26). Unable to tame his tongue….his religion is? Worthless
“Worthless” means…. useless and unprofitable to himself and others; all his preaching, praying, hearing, and attendance on the ordinances will be of no avail to him. Why? Because he or she cannot bridle their tongue….that muscles that gets us into trouble all the time. What James is telling us in this passage is that a corrupt and unholy heart will be exposed by corrupt and unholy speech. The inward heart will come to through your external behaviour. As John MacArthur said “the tongue is not the only indicator of true spirituality, but one of the most reliable.”
Remember what Jesus said in the Gospel? In Matt 12:34 Jesus said this to the religious elites. “Brood of vipers! [or as the King James says “O generation of vipers….which implies “you group of poisonous snakes] How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” There are many people who follow after religious traditions and rituals all in the name of Jesus to appease their conscience. This is man centered religion and the sad reality is that it’s a man made and man centered religion according to James is “worthless.” Remember our speech is a reflection of our heart and what is truly inside of us. This is a clear warning for all of us! Don’t deceive yourself when you speak, you tell the truth about your heart.
The way men speak to and about their wives tell the truth about their hearts.
The way women speak to about their husbands tell the truth about their hearts.
The way you speak to your friends, the way you speak to your family, the way you speak to others, all of these things are indicators of whether or not your faith is real or genuine.
If your engaging in gossip, if your words are biting, if they are cursing, if they are angry, then you need to be careful…..you are showing that your religion is “worthless”
As Paul Washer said “What is your profession in Jesus Christ worth? Nothing is the answer!
Nothing! Apart from the sustaining and continuing work of the Holy Spirit.”
As the Scriptures say…..
You will know them by their fruits. (Matt 7:20; John 15:8)
You will know them by how the face trials and temptation. (James 1:1-13)
You will know them by how they respond to God and His Word. (Job 23:12)
You will know them by their love for the Saviour. ( 1 John 4:7)
You will know them by their desire to study the God breathed scripture. (2 Tim 2:15)
You will know them by their speech and actions on a daily basis, not just Sundays. (James 1:26)
Ask yourself as you examine your heart in the mirror of Scripture…..
Am I changing? Is my speech better, been changing for His glory or for my shame?
Is my speech displaying the first- fruits to His creation about the glories of His goodness?
Because as Jesus said…..Out the heart will display the truth of your life….is it Christ-like or is it like an open tomb [rotting corpse] full of venom as Paul explains it in Romans chapter three?
The tongue is the litmus- test of true religion and we need to be extremely careful.
Because this Media Age we live in says “if you have a thought, then you should immediately share it with the rest of the world.” This is where we need to be extremely careful to keep a tight rein on our tongues and speak in a way that shows your genuine faith is real and the core of your heart belongs to God.
AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY IS DEMONSTRATED BY YOUR SERVICE. (v27b)
When we have been given a new life we have a different and greater outlook on life and the people that live in it. This present world! I’m grieved all the time with the ramp sin in our world, the disregard for human life and self-centeredness each and every day to name a few. See true Christianity is marked by both personal life and public life. The true religion that James is talking about is that…..God implants this new passion in our hearts….which is the gospel and the love of Christ to all people groups. James picks two particular groups of people as examples………Widows and orphans. “Visit” means much more than to drop by for a chat. We are to look after sacrificially which literally means to “seek out someone or visit them.” This implies that we are to go them to spiritually strengthen them, encourage them. It carries the idea of caring for others; exercising oversight on their behalf helping them in whatever way is needed. We need to understand in those times there were no life insurance policies or welfare system to help a widow or a child. Women didn’t have employment as we know it today or group homes for children. Women and children were defenceless and helpless without assistance and parental care. There are thousands of Canadian children that lack a parent to wake them up, to play with them, to make memories that will last a life time, parents to read and teach them or even to tuck them in at night. This is an important issue in our country and around the world. Paul instructing Timothy about the importance of widows and orphans [1 Tim 5:3; 1 Tim 5:16]. Orphans and widows were generally the neediest people in the early church. If you went back into the Old Testament you would find the writers mentioning these two groups often to God’s chosen people.
We hear about Moses instructing the people about caring for the widows and orphans [Deut 10:18; Deut 14:9]
In Job’s letter we see the mentioning of widows and orphans [Job 29:12-13; Job 31:15-20]
Isaiah speaks of protecting them [Isa 1:16-17; Isa 58:6-7]
Jeremiah gives instruction about widows and orphans [Jer 49:11]
David said in Psalm 68:5 “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”
David had such a love for God he couldn’t do anything else other that have a heart for God’s people. Remember what happened after his closet friend died [Jonathan] what did David do?
He demonstrated that truth and his true love for God by taking in Jonathan’s son. He saw this young man through the eyes of his greatest love, the LORD! 2 Sam 9:6-9 we read “And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, "Mephibosheth!" And he answered, "Behold, I am your servant." And David said to him, "Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always." And he paid homage and said, "What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?" Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, "All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson.”
This same truth has been sown throughout the scriptures into the New Testament were we hear Jesus speak on the parable of the “Talents”. (Matt 25:14-30). A man was given 5 talents, another 2 talents and another man one talent. Now this isn’t referring to your talent to sing, juggle or dance. It’s referring to your whole being as a child of God. Your natural ability as you functions in society. The first man went into the Market and made business and doubled his talents and did the second man. But the last man buried it in the ground. The Landowner comes back after a long time away and speaks to the three man. The first two the Landowner says “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'” This is great news and wonderful blessing serving with what God gave to them accordingly……practical Christianity. But when the Landowner gets to the third man, his tone and mannerism changes. We read in (v24-v30) “He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours. But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This man’s religion was “worthless” unfruitful and destroyed as a hypocrite. We are to use every opportunity for the glory of the gospel and the God we serve. And never squander it out of fear or laziness. What this parable tells us is that that those who are faithful, will be fruitful to some degree. James says the transforming work [true religion] as found in the Word, is an outward adoration to seek the interest of others for the glory of His name. It’s a selfless love for souls and for the gospel to penetrate the heart of the broken and the lost. It’s a genuine heart that doesn’t seek praise, money or fame! They do this for the sake of our Lord…..the one who gets the glory.
AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY IS SEPARATION FROM THIS WORLD [SYSTEM] (v27c)
This is a great test for all of us! What do I love more, the things of this world or Christ and His precious truth? Those that belong to God are to be characterized by moral and spiritual purity. How do we do that? By “keeping oneself unstained” (v27) is the means of its being “pure” James isn’t talking about sinless perfection. James is talking about a habitual lifestyle that doesn’t conform itself according to the world’s fallen standards of morals and carnality. Paul laid the foundation clearly when he said ……“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rom 12:1-2
Our lives are to be examples of the glories already been given through the gospel. That’s what true religion looks like. Jerry Bridges makes a similar claim in his book “The Pursuit of Holiness.” “Many Christians have what we might call a “cultural holiness.” They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of Christians around them. As the Christian culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy. But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like Himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God.” A desire for holiness and separation, not conformity and compromise to fit. But I also think James is referring to something else besides personal holiness and moral purity…..we see this pattern especially in James 2:5….and we also see a friendship with the world alters our vision in 3:6 and 4:4. Each time James is refereeing to a fallen world system that runs contrary to God’s plans and purpose for our lives. And as we will see next week… Favouritism is a dangerous place to be in especially in the church.
Our culture loves to honor the rich and forget the poor. Why do I say that! Look what happens when someone form Hollywood or the Music Industries passes away. The world mourns for days……..some people probably grieve more for Hollywood, than they did for a close friend or loved one. James says “a true religion is unstained by this world system for how we treat one another.” Every life is precious to God and we need to treat everyone the same….whether your rich, poor, skin colour, education status or how attractive or unattractive some is. I want my life to be nothing but Christ in me! And James is saying lets be careful this isn’t happening to us that we don’t elevate ones financial status over another especially those less fortunate than some. My desires are to be His desires …which requires me to give up something….which is this world and all it has to offer. The Christian who desires to be great and first in the kingdom is the one who is willing to serve in the hard place, the uncomfortable place, the lonely place, and the demanding places. Knowing that time is short and eternity is long, we must be willing to spend and be spent for His glory.
As John MacArthur says “We must be willing to work for excellence without becoming proud, to withstand criticism without becoming bitter, to be misjudged without becoming defensive, and to withstand suffering without succumbing to self-pity.” A true religion is to put off and then to do with y0ur life according to the scriptures to glorify His precious name. Because in all reality the Christian religion is an active display of mercy and grace through Jesus Christ our Lord.