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Nothing But Truth

True Religion (James 1:23-27)

True Religion (James 1:23-27)
By Dr. Andy Woods

James 1:22 — The book of James is a book about James, the half-brother of Christ, writing from Jerusalem to the scattered Jews in the dispersion, who are believing scattered Jews. He is teaching them not about positional righteousness but about practical righteousness. Once you become a Christian, it is about how you live as a Christian.

The first half of the book of James is about how you walk by faith, not saving faith, but serving faith. We develop a mindset where we trust God in the midst of trials — related to how we develop a practical righteousness that pleases God in trusting God in the midst of adversity.

That would include:

Rejoicing in the midst of trials — James 1:2-12

Not falling for the temptation to charge God foolishly in the midst of trials — James 1:13-18

Then we moved into obedience to the Word of God. This is the dominant subject in the second half of James 1:19-27. What does it mean to develop a serving faith that is obedient to God? There are three things:

1. Need for slowness in speech and anger — James 1:19-20
2. Need for obedience to God’s Word — James 1:21-25, and this is where we are now. Then we will examine…
3. Need for true religion, true piety; true spirituality — James 1:26,27

To start here with number 2 above, the need for obedience to God’s Word — we cannot obey God’s Word until we first receive God’s Word, which we saw in 1:21. To receive God’s Word, we need to:

1. Remove all sins from our lives because those are appetite suppressants — 1:21a
2. Receive the Word of God in humility — 1:21b
3. Result is that the Word of God is capable of saving — 1:21c — not just salvation by faith alone in terms of justification, the first tense of salvation, but also in terms of sanctification, the middle tense of salvation (1:21 end of the verse). So, once we receive God’s Word (1:21), then we are called upon to do God’s Word, which is where we left off in our last message (James 06).

Need for obedience to God’s Word — James 1:21-25

1. Reception of the Word (1:21)

Receiving God’s Word is not for the purpose of sitting, soaking and souring, but with the goal of what we receive becomes action. After he talks about receiving God’s Word in 1:21, then in 1:22, he says, “But prove yourselves to be…”

1. Doers of the Word (1:22-25), “and not merely hearers who delude themselves” — a famous verse. So why, at the very end of the verse would it say, “and so deceive/delude themselves?” The deception is that true spirituality comes from hearing good sermons; good teaching; going to the right church. A lot of people talk about those things, and the entire focus is on receiving, which is obviously very important, but receiving God’s Word does not lead to true spirituality.

Receiving God’s Word is step one. The final step is obedience because what good is it at the end of the day to know something if you don’t act on it? So, if our spirituality is based on what we receive and not on what we do, then we have fallen for a deception because God never told us that people are blessed by hearing; He told us we are told by doing. Hearing is a first step; an initial step, but it was never intended to be a last step, and if you think hearing or showing up weekly listening to good teaching is the height of spirituality, then you fall for the deception that James is alluding to here: ‘you deceive yourselves’ rather we deceive ourselves.

Remember what Jesus said in the upper room in John 13:17, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” Notice that blessing doesn’t come through knowing; He doesn’t say that if you know these things, you are blessed. What He is saying is that “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” So, the blessing in the Christian life never comes through hearing, listening to tapes, podcasts, sermons — all of that is very important, but the blessing comes from taking what one learns and applying it. This what James is speaking of in 1:22; that is his lead point as he starts this paragraph on not just receiving God’s Word (1:21) but being a doer of God’s Word.

So, James, do you have an illustration for us that we could follow easily? James says, ‘I am so glad you asked;’ see the illustration in 1:23-24 where James is illustrating that we should not be just receivers but doers; not just hearers but actors on God’s Word. What point does James use to illustrate this in 1:23,24, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror, for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.”

So, James, to get across this point of not being a mere listener but a doer, uses this illustration of a mirror. Now, notice in 1:23,24, the Word of God is analogized to a mirror. One of the things that is nice about a mirror is that a mirror will never try to avoid hurting your feelings; it will always tell you the truth. If you are looking young, the mirror will tell you; if you’re looking old, the mirror will tell you; if you’re looking energetic, the mirror will tell you, if you’re looking tired and fatigued, the mirror will tell you — you can count on the mirror telling you the truth. In essence, this is what the Word of God does — it makes no attempt to sugar coat or to avoid hurt feelings; it tells you the exact truth, as we look at ourselves in light of the standard of God’s Word, which is analogized to a mirror.

A person who is a hearer of God’s Word but not a doer; someone who receives per 1:21, but never applies 1:22-25, is really like someone who looks at himself in a mirror and then walks away, forgetting like he looks like. Why? Because he is living outside of his position. If God reveals to us, my true position, which is holiness positionally, and I go out and I don’t act like it, then I’m living inconsistent with my position. What eventually happens to me is that I forget my initial position because I am looking at my practice in the mirror, and it doesn’t reveal holiness, and I have forgotten about the fact that God has decreed me to be holy. That is the danger of living outside of our position as Christians — forgetting our original position because we are looking in a mirror, the Word of God which cannot lie, will always tell us the truth, and will reveal to us our true actions, which in some cases, will be unholy. If you look at that long enough as the standard, you will forget that God has decreed you to be holy positionally. He is not saying you’ve lost your salvation, or that you are no longer a Christian, or a believer; He is saying that you have forgotten what you look like, your position.

So, it is kind of a shock to us to realize that in the eyes of God the Father that we look just as righteous as Jesus Christ. Do we realize that about ourselves? Not because of ourselves but because of Christ’s righteousness that has been transferred to us at the point of faith. The great doctrine there is imputation, or transfer. If you ask people (on a Sunday morning) if they know that God the Father looks at them and sees that they are as righteous as His Son, then as a preacher, I can hear all of the gasps in the crowd; they cannot believe that this is true. Why not? Because they have forgotten what they look like; it’s like looking in a mirror and walking way forgetting what they look like. So, when our practice doesn’t mirror our position, we forget our original position. That is what a person like who is a hearer but not a doer of God’s Word.

So, it is entirely possible for Christians to forget their position in Christ because their behavior is inconsistent with it. Here is a parallel passage in 2 Peter 1:9, “For he who lacks these qualities (the fruit of the Spirit) is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” Is this person here in this passage that Peter is addressing saved; clearly they are because they’ve received purification from their sins; they’re positionally right before God. Their problem isn’t that they need to receive purification from God, they already have it, the problem is that they’ve forgotten their purification. “For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” That is the danger that we run into when we hear but don’t do; when we get knowledge but don’t have wisdom; when we have ‘gnosis’ but no ‘sofia’; no ‘hokuma’ which means wisdom or knowledge applied. If we don’t apply what we are learning, then we forget our initial position.

We see this happening in the famous story of the prodigal son. Remember the son who went out and lived riotously, and how we wanted to go back home after he bottomed out? Remember what he was saying, rehearsing his speech to give to his father when he made it back home. In Luke 15:31, he said, “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The fact of the matter is that he may have felt unworthy to be the son, but he was still the son; he had just forgotten his former position.

This is what James is dealing with here. What are we like when we hear but don’t do, or like someone who looks at himself in the mirror; he walks away forgetting what he looks like. He isn’t saying we have to be born again; we already have been. What we have to do is to follow the power of the Spirit that allows us to live a life consistent with our position, and when we does this, then we don’t forget our initial position. This is James’ illustration in 1:22-24.

In 1:25, James says, “But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” I hope you are seeing develop here in James 1, a very important area of systematic theology called bibliology. Bibliology is what the Bible says about itself. Take all of the major areas of systematic theology and divide it into about ten categories — this is the study of systematic theology; and it is trying to figure out what the Bible says in each of these areas. There is no bibliology book; there is no book to go to where I can learn everything there is to know about what the Bible says about itself. The Bible is not set up that way. The Bible is set up as ‘crisis literature’ meaning it is designed to address real problems for real people. Every book of the Bible is set up that way. For me to figure out everything that the Bible says about the Bible would require me to go through the entire Bible, assembling all of the pieces on that subject, arranging them in a meaningful order. That is what is done in systematic theology. These all come from fancy Greek names, and don’t let them intimidate you because those names have simple definitions. See copy of slide below regarding what the Bible says about:

Regarding Angelology, we have done a study on that, ie, what the Bible says about angels; there is no ‘angel’ book; the doctrine of angels is dispersed throughout the whole Bible, so if you want to understand what God thinks about angels, you have to go through the whole Bible and assemble it.

Eschatology is the study of the end, not just the book of Revelation; the very first eschatological statement that you find in the whole Bible, is coming up in a future series, Genesis 3:15; how there is coming One from the Seed of the woman, the Messiah, who is going to crush satan’s head. This is an eschatological statement made very early on in the Bible.

So here we are in James 1 which is making a lot of contributions about bibliology, the doctrine of Scripture. First of all, we saw in 1:23,24 that the Scripture is like a mirror; it always reveals the truth. What else does the Scripture do for you? If you look at the first part of 1:25, it says, “But one who looks intently at the perfect law” notice that we are supposed to take God’s Word and look intently at it; it isn’t supposed to be a casual glance. Psalm 1 talks about the man who is blessed, and Psalm 1:3 that says, ‘he studies God’s law day and night’ so this is a blessing that comes to people who do this when they look intently at God’s Word or His law per James 1:25, and they gain freedom, note the word, ‘liberty.’

Thus, God’s Word is designed to create freedom in us; not only is God’s Word is a mirror per 1:23,24, which always tells us the truth about ourselves, but it is also designed to create emancipation, freedom. It is akin to the slaves following the Civil War, many of whom were illiterate, and Abraham Lincoln had passed the emancipation proclamation, where the Constitution had been amended three times to free the slaves — the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments of the United States Constitution. Yet many slaves continued to be slaves because they did not know that in the US, their legal status had changed. What they needed was truth. Someone had to come and explain this to them, and if no one had explained it to them, they would continue to be slaves even though they weren’t required to be slaves. That is the idea in 1:25 — that is the law of God or the Word of God that creates freedom or emancipation. Study the Word of God and realize you are no longer a slave to sin, and you need not obey sin any longer — anymore than post-civil war slaves had to continue obeying their masters as their legal status had changed. But you would never know that unless you became a student of someone who looks intently at the law of God which is designed to create liberty. Didn’t Jesus say that in John 8:32? “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The truth is not there to make you more miserable or unhappy or to put you into a greater state of enslavement; God gave you His Word to liberate you, this is what is there in 1:25. That is powerful bibliology. That is why you should go to a Bible church that teaches the Word of God and rightfully divides it, because as you hear and read it for yourself, is like a mirror that always tells the truth, doesn’t sugar coat anything, and it is there to emancipate, to liberate.

Deuteronomy 10:13 of God’s commands, says, “…and to keep the Lord’s commands and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your own good.” Notice that God’s laws and His statutes are there for our own good. The deception that satan has many people under is that they believe that if they give themselves to God’s Word, then they will be a slave when, in reality, it is the opposite — the Word of God liberates, emancipates, and the commandments are there for my own good and protection. For example, you’re driving and you want to get there quick, and there is the annoying stop sign — a nuisance. You wonder, ‘why should I have to stop at a stop sign, why not be free of stop signs and run through them at will; why can’t I declare my freedom?’ We know how it would end if we did that — someone else or you would end up hurt, or God forbid, you die or kill someone else in the process. So the very thing you believe is an annoyance, nuisance, or encumbrance on your liberties is actually there for your own protection.

So, there is profound bibliology in James 1 which makes tremendous contributions to the area of systematic theology called bibliology. James 1:25 goes on to say, “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer,”… notice the expression, ‘an effectual doer.’ An effectual doer; a habitual doer is the person who receives the blessing that is mentioned at the end of 1:25. In Greek, it is like ‘doer, doer’ is the way it reads; there are two words there. This isn’t just a person who hears something and occasionally obeys when it is convenient, but under God’s power, seeks to obey God in every area of life, becoming not just a doer, but an effectual doer. There is a blessing in it for such a person. This man or woman will be blessed in what he does, not in what he knows.

It is very interesting that the Word of God only promises a blessing to someone who actually applies what is taught. Do we have examples in the Bible of people who are habitual doers of the Word of God? One of my favorites is Daniel. Daniel and Joseph are the only two characters in the entire Bible who I know of other than Christ, where nothing negative is said about them. This is one of the reasons I believe that the Bible had to be written by God and not man, because if man wrote the Bible, he would cover up his own sins, and you’ll notice that never happens in the Bible. Noah’s sins are in the open, as are David’s, Solomon’s, Peter’s, Paul’s (when he was Saul of Tarsus) for anyone to see. There are only those two people whose sins are not openly disclosed — Joseph (Genesis 37-50) and Daniel. Daniel, is not merely a doer but a doer, doer — someone who is habitually obedient to God, and in Daniel 6 is an illustration of this effectual doer. Daniel 6:10, “Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed”… (the edict of the Persian King, Darius, that he was tricked into signing, which says no more public prayer). So, I believe that if this election does get stolen, which could happen, as I will explain on PPOV on 11-6-20, then we are entering a time in the US where these types of things will have to be considered. As the Democrat party platform does not respect freedom of religious conscience; it is in their platform. Jim and I went through that platform last week in PPOV 142. The Republican party platform does have a clause in it that does respect freedom of religious conscience; the Democrat party does not. You can see the language very clearly. So, you get a Democrat president, and suddenly with the Equality Act that gets passed, and two homosexuals show up at your church to be married, and the Pastor says ‘no.’ Now the church is in legal trouble, or if someone applies for a staff position who happens to be someone who is transitioning, who is a man that feels like a woman at a different time of the day, therefore, this transitioning man needs to be able to enter the ladies bathroom at church. Then you tell this person that you aren’t going to hire them as a staff member at your church, we won’t marry homosexuals, etc. The Equality Act is now law, and the church is under legal trouble. You can say that this violates the church’s religious conscience but the Democrat party platform says that they don’t care.

This is why Daniel 6 suddenly becomes a big deal as Daniel in Babylon was having to make these kinds of decisions. The Persian king said ‘no prayer,’ and Daniel prayed anyway. To continue with Daniel 6, “Now when Daniel knowledge that the document was signed, he entered into his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks (these are all present tense verbs) before his God, as he had been doing previously.” So, he wasn’t merely a doer, he was an effectual doer; a ‘doer doer,’ the kind of person that James says is blessed.

Daniel 6:16 says, “Then the king gave orders and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel (the King speaking to Daniel), “Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.” So, Daniel’s reputation was known even unto the Persian kings; ‘the only one who is going to be able to help you now, Daniel, is your God, who by the way, I have seen you constantly serve.’

Daniel 6:20 says, “When he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice”… (the king is troubled because he was talked into this edict against public prayer; he was deceived into it, and according to the laws of the Medes and the Persians, once they pass a law, it cannot be revoked. You will see a reference to that in Esther 8:8. Thus, once the king was fooled into passing this law, the king had to throw Daniel into the lions’ den, and he was saying, ‘I can’t help you; the only One who is able to help you is God’)… “The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?” We know the answer to that, the happy ending that God did deliver, but you’ll notice that the Persian king refers to Daniel as the person who constantly serves God. That is what James is dealing with here in 1:25, the person who is blessed, the person who is blessed is an effectual doer, as Daniel was.

James goes on in 1:25, saying, “…this man… (which man? The ‘doer doer’) this man will be blessed (not in what he knows but) “in what he does.” So, it is very clear that blessing in the Christian life comes from doing. Hearing but hearing is not a first step; knowledge turns into wisdom, ‘gnosis’ turns into ‘sofia;’ knowledge turns into ‘hokuma’ or wisdom, and it is consistently applied and James is saying that this is how to achieve a practical righteousness that’s is pleasing to God. This is how to let your practice catch up with your position. Jesus said that if you know these things you are blessed if you do them.

How about the book of Joshua in 1:8 that says the same thing, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night,” (sounds like psalm 1 previously referenced) “you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do…” (not pass an exam; passing exams are wonderful, but that was never designed by God to be a final step)… “all that is written in it”… (that is what Daniel was like; he obeyed the parts of the Hebrew Bible that he agreed with, and maybe there were things that made it harder on him, but he obeyed those also to the point where he wouldn’t even let an edict from the Persian king disrupt his personal prayer life)… “for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” Prosperous and success — isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that why we work ourselves to death; why we get up early and go to bed late, because we want to prosper and be successful? God says to Joshua in 1:8, ‘here is how to make yourself prosperous and successful: “…meditate on it (the law of God) day and night, so that you may be careful to do according all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

So, blessing in the Christian life comes from doing not just hearing. That is James’ point. Here is a verse that has really helped me over the years, when I was a new student at Dallas Seminary. I remember Charles Swindoll at one of our chapel services preaching on this; it was very helpful to me. It describes Ezra and Ezra’s calling as a priest, saying this of Ezra in Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had firmly resolved to study the Law of the Lord” [I remember Swindoll said that ‘this is why we were here at this school; you’re not here to evangelize the city of Dallas; you are here to study the Word of God, that is why God has put you here.’ But you will notice that the verse doesn’t stop there] …“and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Notice the order in this verse:

1. Study because you can’t practice what you don’t know
2. Under God’s power, you start putting it into practice, then and only then are you in a position to…
3. Teach it to someone else.

There are a lot of people who want to be teachers. In fact, in this book we will learn in James 3:1, let few of you presume to be teachers. A lot of people want platforms, audiences, pulpits, and some of the things that they say make it pretty obvious that they haven’t spent a lot of time studying. There are others who study, but don’t practice it themselves and they get exposed as lacking integrity or being unethical, and I know God well enough to know that He will not be mocked. If someone is standing behind a pulpit representing God and is not practicing what he is telling others to do, then eventually it will come to the surface because that God’s nature.

Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had firmly resolved to study the Law of the Lord and to practice it, and (last step)… to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” So, I was sitting there in chapel, and I said, ‘Well, Lord, I want to be just like that — a good student of Your Word, I want to put it into practice and in my personal life, and if it is Your decree and grace that You put me in a position to teach others, I want that, too. But I don’t want number 3 without bypassing steps 1 and 2.’ See that?

This is what James is dealing with — being a doer of the Word of God, the blessing in the Christian life comes from doing.

So how do we obey God? Three things:

1. Need for slowness to speech and anger — James 1:19,20
2. Need for obedience to God’s Word — James 1:21-25
3. Need for True religion — James 1:26,27

If you heard my sermon last Sunday, you heard that I was against religion because religion is man’s attempt to earn favor before God through his own works, so religion may not be the best word used to describe 1:26,27. A better word might be piety or spirituality or letting your practice catch up with your position. That is what James is dealng with in 1:26,27. In 1:26, he explains what authentic piety is not. Then in 1:27 he explains what authentic piety is. James what is true spirituality not? James responds, ‘I am so glad you asked.’ Look at 1:26, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue…” (Gee, James, don’t beat around the bush, just come out and tell me what you think)… “but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” So, what is true spirituality not? It is what we would call ‘stung by the tongue.’ A person is not really walking in practical righteousness when the 2×2 slab of mucous membrane between the gums is running constantly in an out of control way. In fact, when we get to James 3:1-12, James will explain that this 2×2 slab of mucous membrane called the tongue, although it is a small part of the body, is like a spark that can set an entire forest on fire. We have already had a little bit about being stung by the tongue in 1:19 where James says, “Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak.” So, if my mouth is running off sarcasm, venom, bitterness, derisive comments, and I’m going to church week after week, hearing good teaching, then James is basically saying whatever piety I have is really worthless, or it isn’t worth much. That word, ‘worthless’ is very important because when you go to James 2:20, he uses a similar word, ‘useless.’ He says in James 2:20, “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” Here, James says, our piety is worthless; ‘worthless’ in James 1:26; ‘useless’ in James 2:20.

What James is saying here is not that your faith doesn’t exist; this is very important to understand. What he is saying is that it isn’t good for anything; it is good in the sense that your fire insurance is paid up, and you aren’t going to hell, but as far as God actually and strategically using our lives to accomplish eternal things, God can’t use it. This is very important because a lot of people, when getting to James 2:20, particularly in reformed theology, they interpret James 2 as saying that if you don’t have works, then your faith never existed. That is not what James is saying; he isn’t saying that your faith doesn’t exist; he is saying that your faith is worthless or useless in the sense that God cannot use it to accomplish eternal things on the Earth, which is why we are here. Why doesn’t God just take us to heaven after we become a Christian? Because God wants to use our lives for His purposes; this is the whole point of John 15 in the upper room, the vine in the branch. He talks about how you cannot bear fruit of your own, only as the branch abides in the vine does it become fruitful; only then does it produce fruit that will last. James is saying that if I’m going to church, and I am orthodox in my doctrine, and I’m hearing good sermons, yet my tongue is out of control, then yes, I am going to heaven, my fire insurance is paid up, I am not going to hell, which is wonderful, but my faith is basically worthless or useless in terms of being used by God for His eternal purposes. He isn’t saying that it doesn’t exist, which is the common misconception in reformed theology.

What you are doing in James 2 is largely controlled by decisions you have already made in James 1. When we get to James 2, I won’t say that if you don’t have works, you aren’t a Christian. Ninety-nine percent of preachers will tell you that; but that isn’t what James is saying. James is saying that if you don’t have works, then your faith is unproductive, not non-existent, that is why it is helpful to pay attention to words like useless, ineffective and the like.

What he is saying in James 1:26 is what is true spirituality not? [But] “If a man thinks himself to be religious and (yet) does not bridle his tongue but deceives his (own) heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” He is deceived, this man, because he thinks he is spiritual. But James says that you aren’t spiritual; you have a saving faith but certainly not a serving faith — is his point. That is what true piety is not — not orthodoxy plus gossip; orthodoxy plus sarcasm; orthodoxy plus unedifying speech; orthodoxy plus earthy speech. That isn’t what true spirituality is.

So, James if that isn’t what true spirituality is not, can you please tell us what true spirituality is? James says again, ‘I am glad you asked. In 1:27, by the way, on the subject of worthless and useless, we aren’t dealing with justification, but with sanctification. The whole book of James is middle tense salvation. See Tenses of Salvation slide below on next page:

What then is true religion (James 1:27)? “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:”… he mentions two things, but notice before to the second half of 1:27 that he mentions undefiled and pure religion. I cannot help but think of Thomas Jefferson when I read that because a lot of people, secularists, are very down on him in the sense that they believe that he had no respect for the Bible because of statements he made throughout his life, and I think they are misunderstanding Thomas Jefferson.

He was all about Jesus, and he was also all about true Christianity as espoused by Jesus and not by what he thought were corruptions of Christianity by denominationalism. When Thomas Jefferson is criticizing, allegedly Christianity, what he is really criticizing is corruptions of it. He was into pure and undefiled religion, so in a letter to Benjamin Rush, he wrote the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush is a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He writes:

In other words, forget denominationalism, let’s go back to what Jesus called pure and undefiled religion. Thomas Jefferson goes on to say that His, Christ’s system of morals….(see slide above). He goes on…

“His (Christ’s) moral doctrines were more pure and perfect (doesn’t that sound like James here, pure and undefiled religion) …than those of the most correct philosophers…gathering all into one family under the bonds of love of charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince” (I love how these older guys wrote; it is just beautiful language. What would they do with twitter where they only get 25 characters to communicate) “…the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others. The precepts of philosophy, and of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He (Jesus) pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.”

What Jefferson is saying is that everyone else is talking about what is going on on the outside — ethics, whereas Jesus says if you look at a woman with lust, you’re an adulterer; if you are unjustifiably angry with your brother to the point where you wish them dead, you are a murderer — that is what impressed Jefferson about Christ: that no other philosopher did that. What Jefferson didn’t like was the corruption of the original version of Jesus. He was into completely pure and undefiled religion; the kind of thing that James is talking about.

So how do you know if you are practicing pure and undefiled religion? By the way, I bring these quotes to your attention because your kids and grandkids are being taught differently. With almost no primary source data behind it, they’re being taught that the founders were deists and terrible people. Why? Because the powers that be want to replace the existing US government as it currently exists with communism or Marxism, and you can’t do that unless you trash the origin of America. If I am a salesman trying to talk you into a new toothpaste, I can’t do that unless I ask you what toothpaste you’re currently using, and ‘don’t you know that this toothpaste is dated, and it destroys your enamel?’ Until you are open to that idea, I can’t give you the new toothpaste. That’s why your kids and grandkids are being taught by so many sources now to disrespect the founding fathers. The founding fathers were not perfect people, but you can see from statements like this that Thomas Jefferson was not hostile to Christianity, in fact, in his day, they were calling him as advocating an anti-Christian system, falsely imputed to him. Here, he is correcting the record with Benjamin Rush.

So then, what is true religion?

1. Ministering to widows and orphans in their distress 1:27a. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distresss”… why are widows and orphans in distress? Because when this was written, there was no safety net; no insurance policies, no protection, so as a widow or orphan, you were in trouble and the most vulnerable of society. Someone had to look out for you. By the way, God always looked for the widows and orphans. I looked up widows and orphans earlier this week, and there are multiple verses, but Exodus 22:22, “You shall not oppress any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” That isn’t what I said — God said it. That is Exodus 22:22-24.

Deuteronomy 27:19, “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.”

Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” In fact, paganism, God here, is describing in the cycles of discipline, a pagan nation coming against Israel, and they’re characterized as a nation who has no respect for the young, the old, nor shows favor to the young. So, Christianity, that’s why the Christians are who invented all the hospitals. Even in this area, we have Methodist, St. Luke’s. It isn’t the atheists who came up with hospitals, it was Christians. Atheists or pagans have no respect for the vulnerable; Christians practicing true religion have always had respect for the vulnerable like the widows and orphans because it is in the Bible.

So true religion is ministering to the most distressed; the people who need help the most, as in the first century and even today, widows and orphans.

2. True religion authentic spirituality is its moral purity — James 1:27b — “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Who is running the world system? Satan is. The world system is described in 1 John 2:15-17, “All that is in the world” (‘world’ is ‘cosmos’ where we get the word, ‘cosmopolitan,’ an actual magazine) — “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” That is why 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Once I become worldly, I fall in love with satan’s domain. That happened to someone in the Bible named Demas. Demas bailed out at the end of Paul’s life, and Paul writes about it in 2 Timothy 4:10, “…for Demas” (was Demas a believer, I think he was, or else why would Paul make Demas part of his missionary team?), … ”Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me.” That is how the world works; it presents itself as such an allurement that it alienates our affections from God. Romans 12:2, Philip’s Version says, “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.” Jesus says in John 15:18-19, that if you are a friend of God, you become of an enemy of the world. Why would He say that? Because the world is organized by satan, and that fits with James 4:4 where James talked about avoiding worldliness at the end of chapter 1, but he gets more deeply into it in James 4:4. There he explains that friendship with the world is enmity against God. Friendship with God is enmity against the world because satan is orchestrating the ‘cosmos,’ the system of philosophy through lust of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life, you cannot achieve a practical righteousness that pleases God with one foot in Christianity and the other foot in love with the world system. It is impossible to live for God that way. When we try to do that, we are really not practicing undefiled, authentic Christianity.

James 1:19-27 is all about obedience to the Word of God; faith that obeys through three things:

— Need for lowness in speaking in anger 1:19,20

— Need for receiving and obeying God’s Word 1:21-25

— Need to practice true religion 1:26,27

True religion is not unbridled speech; but it is ministering to those in distress and keeping oneself unstained by the world. The problem with the Bible is that there isn’t enough to apply to life, is there? I don’t know how I got out of that paragraph in one piece.

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