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.
If someone asked you, “How can I know if my faith is genuine?” how would you respond? What metrics would you suggest for self-evaluation? Perhaps the fruit of the Spirit or the virtues commended in the Sermon on the Mount? There are many from which to choose. Yet the aim of such a test, of course, is not to find perfection but to measure whether we are, by God’s grace, heading in the right direction. And so, when James gives us just such a test, he highlights three specific areas of conduct.
The first part of the test concerns a controlled tongue. All believers run the risk of being precise and orthodox in our praise of God and articulation of the truths of the faith yet all the while being guilty of thoughtless tongue-wagging. The ways to transgress with our tongue are many and common, including slander, gossip, lies, and filthy speech. If we are not seeking to bring our speech into alignment with our claim to know Christ, we may need to inquire if our hearts are deceived.
The second part of the test deals with our compassion. Compassion should mark Christians because it is an attribute of our heavenly Father, who is “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). If we belong to Him, then we, too, should have genuine concern for those who are helpless. If our hearts do not break at the plight of the needy, then we ought to ask ourselves whether our religion is indeed pure.
The final part of James’ test asks whether our lives are marked by purity. We dare not be socially involved and practically helpful at the expense of our own personal holiness. James therefore urges spiritual watchfulness. The world we inhabit is actively opposed to the purposes of God, and we need to be careful, lest we are carried off by the tide. Keeping in mind the fundamental conflict between the kingdom of Christ and the world will help keep us “unstained from the world.” If we instead befriend the world and its values, we will find ourselves practicing a defiled religion.
While the test these three areas constitute is not comprehensive, it is sufficient. None of us pass it perfectly, but we should ask ourselves whether we are headed in the right direction in our speech, compassion, and purity. Perhaps as you read these verses the Spirit of God is pricking your conscience and revealing an area on which you ought to focus some prayerful energy. If that is so, take heart, for true religion is that which is repentant, which looks to the cross for salvation, and which asks the same Spirit who reveals to us our weaknesses to give us the strength to pursue a religious life of controlled speech, genuine concern, and a pursuit of purity.
As a thank-you from us for your gift, we'll send along this month's resource: How Christianity Transformed the World by Sharon James
Click here to learn more about Truth For Life
Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg, published by The Good Book Company, thegoodbook.com. Used by Truth For Life with permission. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company.