“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 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 1:26-27 ESV
Think back to some of the life-changing moments of your life. Maybe it was the day you got married or the days your children were born. Maybe it was the day you chose to go back to school, accept a new job, or move to a new city. Maybe it was a person you met who really challenged some of your long-held thoughts. Things that are life-changing should be just that: they should change the way you look at your life and live your life.
For believers, the greatest life-changing moment of our lives was when God called us to faith in Jesus as our Savior. That should, as James tell us, impact our lives not just for eternity, but also right now. As James concludes the first chapter of his epistle, he shows us some of the ways our faith should impact our lives.
First, Christian faith seeks to control the tongue. Instead of gossiping, slandering, and otherwise dragging down reputations, Christian faith speaks with kindness and gentleness, seeking to protect reputations. James says that the person who does not bridle his tongue is the sort that goes to church and imagines that he is acting like a true child of God but, really, he is deceiving himself. His lovelessness reveals who he is.
Secondly, Christian faith looks for ways to help those in need. In James’ day, there were probably no groups in more need than widows and orphans. There were no government programs to help them out. Many widows and orphans were reduced to a life of begging, stealing, or even worse to survive. Genuine religion will bear fruit such as concern and compassion for the lonely, the grieving, the destitute and the helpless.
Finally, Christian faith keeps itself from the pollution of the world. Christians make it a priority to build their values, attitudes, and desires on the Gospel, and not to let the world subvert their faith with its agendas and values.
This text invites us to ask ourselves how genuine our faith really is. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that our faith often falls short of being pure and undefiled. That is why it is so comforting to look to Jesus. Look at how Jesus lived His life. He perfectly controlled His speech, always saying exactly what needed to be said. He never gave in to the temptations of the world around Him. He invested in widows, orphans, the less fortunate, and those despised by society. And He even invested in us personally. He washed us clean of all of our wrongdoing. He has clothed us with His perfection. He declares us not guilty of all charges.
We stand on God’s grace and love, and that impacts our lives. God’s love for us in Christ motivates us to show Him how much we treasure His blessings by doing whatever we can to praise Him with our lives. Will we always do this? Sadly, no. Our text, as the Law always does, reminds us of how often we fall short. We are sinners.
But we are forgiven sinners. May the Lord enable us to live our lives as His forgiven children, honoring the One who made us His own.
Robert Sauers is pastor of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions