"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 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."
There are many things in life that we place a high value on. Things like money, jewels, gold and relationships are just some of the things people place value in. One of the concerns with these things is that they be the "genuine article." People do not place much value in fake friendships, counterfeit money or jewelry that is made of plastic, unless for some sentimental reason. For the most part, when it comes to things of high value, people want to know that they possess what is authentic and genuine. James has already pointed out the vital importance for those who claim faith in God to realize the importance of putting that faith to the test to determine if it is a genuine, authentic saving faith or not (see 1:3).
In verses 26 and 27 James comes to an explicit statement about what it looks like to possess true faith in God and all that he is and all that he has accomplished in Christ. There seems to be a progression in chapter one as James moves from simply calling for believers to respond appropriately to the word of God, "receive the word" in verse 21 becomes "do the word" in verse 22. In verses 26-27 the progression comes to three ways in which believers can be doers of the word. These three manifestations of obedience to the word introduce key ideas that James will return to again in his letter, but before we dive into these three expressions of genuine faith in Christ and delight in the word of God, lets clarify briefly the word "religion."
The word translated "religion" here is a term with a very broad and general meaning that basicly refers to worship and even to the ritualistic ceremonies associated with that worship in the New Testament, but here James uses the term to mean devotion to God in genuine expressions of faith. The signals for this interpretation are the phrases, "pure religion" and "religion that is pure and undefiled before God", indicating religion that is not just going through the traditional motions of worship, but authentic expressions of faith in God.
Some Fruits of Genuine Faith:
Somewhat like Galatians 5:22-23, where Paul gives evidences of the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, James writes that the presence of genuine faith will bring forth the fruit of obedience to the word of God and a lifestyle of love for others in the pursuit of personal holiness.
1. Fruit of a controlled tongue - the fruit that grows from the roots of genuine faith in God and the work of Christ is the fruit of a controlled tongue. To see the flow of thought we can think of a person who is brought forth by the word of truth (v.18) and the one with the implanted word (v.21) is given the ability by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to bridle the tongue and to be careful in what he or she says (v. 26).
2. Fruit of concern for the helpless - (v. 27) Here James points to a biblical concept and mark of God's own character and expected behavior of the covenant people of God. For example, in Exodus 22:22 God commands, "you shall not mistreat any widow of fatherless child." Another example is found in Psalm 68:5, talking about the character of God, "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation." The new covenant people of God are no less expected to reflect our Heavenly Father's heart for those in society who are helpless and hopeless if your claim to faith is genuine.
3. Fruit of the pursuit of personal holiness - (v. 27) Surely one of the marks of genuine faith is that of pursuit of personal holiness for the glory of God, who is holy, and the good of others who will see the character of God reflected in the character of his children. I say "pursuit" because this is truly a process of sanctification and not perfect, sinlessness of mind and action.
To keep away from the contamination of the world is to pursue God and all that he is for us in Christ! To pursue personal holiness to reflect our Father who is the holy, righteous, just and pure God of all creation.
Truly this is a great challenge, to pursue personal holiness even as we go into the darkness and sin of a rebellious world that we have been graciously delivered from and have now been sent into with the same gospel that saved us and is transforming us into the very image of Christ (Philippians 2:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:19-20; John 20:21).