The Walk of a True Christian
“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
Religion is often considered a “bad” word in our Christian circles. We have all heard the saying, “I’m not religious but in a relationship with Christ”. We know from Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith and that this saving work is a gift of God and not of our own doing. Therefore, we rightly push back against any means that seem to suggest you can be saved by religious effort. We take a stand against works and assert that we are not saved by how many church services we attend, how many times a day we pray. We know very well the cornerstone verse on religiosity from Luke 18:11-12, where the proud Pharisee arrogantly boasted in his works before God. In that account, we identify ourselves with the tax collector and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”.
In our text today, James speaks to us, to those of us who have identified with the tax collector, to those of us who realise that our works cannot save us. The pure and undefiled religion James speaks of is what we would consider a relationship with Christ and we could rephrase the first part of verse 26 to say, “If anyone thinks he is in a relationship with Christ…”
James does not want us to be deceived and to think ourselves right with God while we are in fact not right with God. It would be a shame for us to be holding on to a religion/relationship that proves to be worthless at the end. We see from our text and others that there is a way to know if the religion we practise is pure and undefiled before God the Father. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul tells us to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. There are two ways go about this, we need to check and see if we are putting off and we also need to check see if we are putting on.
Now, do you have an attitude of hate towards sin? Are your sinful actions followed by remorse and repentance? Are you continuing in habitual sin such that sinfulness is how you ordinarily go about with life? Are you bridling your tongue or are you letting it loose in untruth and unkindness? Notice James does not say you ought to have bridled your tongue but rather that you must be bridling your tongue. The question is not whether you are sinless but rather are you seeking to be sinless. We will not be saved by religiously avoiding sin and refraining from sinful actions, but these things are evidence that indeed we are in a relationship with Christ.
James like Paul (in Ephesians 4:24) does not want us to only be putting off but to also be putting on. James wants us to be those who are concerned with the care of the most vulnerable in our society, particularly in their afflictions. If indeed we are in a relationship with Christ, we will give food and water to the hungry, we will welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick, for Christ said, when we do these things for the least of us, we are doing them to Him (Matthew 25:40).
The lockdown presents an opportunity for sin to take advantage of our extra free time or of our isolation from others. As those who are in a relationship with Christ, we must be fighting sin and not allowing it to gain a foothold. The lockdown has also created a situation of need amongst some of us. We therefore must listen to the words of James and be seeking opportunities to serve one another, particularly the vulnerable. We are physically limited in what we can do but let us be finding ways to care for one another. Call to check how others are doing, call to encourage with a word and to fellowship and if you are able to, contribute towards the Diaconal fund so that the church can be empowered to meet practical needs.
This is the walk of a true Christian, to bridle your tongue and to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction. And to keep oneself unstained from the world.