True Religion: How are we called to Live
Article 2 in a series of 2
Most Christian “know” the verse in James 1:27 that says that true faith results in service to those who are hurting and in need. This concept is backed up in chapter 2 where in vv. 14-26 James discusses the necessity of works to back up our claim to have faith. For most Christians, this call to action is often satisfied by being on committees and much other activity—within the confines of their local church.
KP Yohannan poses an interesting-and electrifying question: “If you ceased all of your Christian service today, would the impact be felt in eternity?” Would it make any difference at all in eternity if I stopped what I am “doing” for the sake of the gospel?” Scary question! Our degree of usefulness and the measure of our “life” is our fruit. Not the fruits of the Spirit: but the Life that we’ve spawned or encouraged to grow or planted in the lives of the lost and dying all around us. Belief is not enough to save us. As Jesus points out “even the demons believe and tremble.” They have a form of faith and also the fear of God (which is only the BEGINNING of wisdom).
In what manner does Scripture teach us to live out our faith-lives? First there is the necessity of becoming a new creation and having access to a relationship with God through the means provided by Christ’s sacrificial death. Then we will grow in the knowledge of Christ and in so doing will come to understand His message and His mission for the earth and its inhabitants. We will grow in the love of Christ for the lost whom are enslaved to the powers of darkness and will become impassioned to share with them the freedom and hope that we’ve found. And for as long as we are on this earth we will grow to resemble Jesus to a greater and greater degree through the sanctifying power of the Spirit and the Word of God. Concrete action and observable changes in our characters are essential evidences of the reality of our faith; mere claims to believe are not enough.
In the James 1 passage, there are a few other things mentioned beside service to the orphans and widows:
1) Mentioned FIRST is our practice of “bridling” our tongues. What we say IS important. Do our words tear down or heal? Are they TRUE words, or is it “okay” to lie now and then? Profanity: is it ever excusable? Boasting, gossiping, coarse jesting, foolish talking, unkind, hurtful words, judgmental words, words that tear others down, divisive words, critical words, ungrateful words. Scripture addresses all of these with great attention. Why do we not also give much attention to these things in our lives? What we say, MATTERS! A book I’ve recently read talks about the power of our words. There is a measurable, observable power contained in the spoken word. Our words exert a true, physical effect in the tangible world. Words of blessing, words of cursing have a real consequence and power in the lives of others. We so often diminish this truth and cover our guilt with a casual apology that does nothing to eradicate the damage we’ve done. James is clear about the incinerating power of our words. As Christians we simply cannot go around lighting fires and leaving them to burn without culpability…if we consistently refuse to control our tongues, we must seriously question by whose name it is we are really called.
2) Self-deception: partly this verse says we are deceiving ourselves if we disregard point #1 and think we can have a valuable, productive faith if we continue to ignore the way we speak. There are many ways that we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are okay, clean before God, of great value to Him via our lives, that we have all the answers, that all of the warnings and injunctions of Scripture apply to everyone but us. Satan speaks the language of excuses and self-deception and self-justification…the question is: are we listening to it? Is it also our native tongue? If we believe or live a lie, then who is our true father? (John 8) It is so critical to know the truth in our inner man—to be guided from the central core of Truth (originating with the LOGOS within us). (Our minds, by the way, do not comprise our “inner man”!) Do we have the spirit of apokolupto (revelation)? Does the Spirit of God reveal and make plain the Truth of God in our hearts? (1 Cor. 2:23-24)
3) Then comes the way we live: spend our time and energy and money… Is it for others or for ourselves? Are we making the rich and fat, richer and fatter? Or are we feeding the starving and dying?
4) Lastly, but not as an afterthought: we must “keep ourselves unstained by the world.” The word ‘keep’ here implies a continuous effort… a daily assessment of ourselves, and a constant attitude of wariness and guardedness against the attitudes of the world. This does not mean to harden our hearts to the needs of the world…but to guard our hearts against the philosophies of this planet that are demonically inspired and propagated. Identify the heresies around you and wash your mind with the Word. RENEW your mind and be transformed. God’s Word is the only cure for this problem…the only means of prevention. It is the only antidote for the venomous bite of the serpent. And as James warns in vv 21-25, being in the Word involves much more than merely reading. It involves thought, insight, prayer, and change or action as a result of the things we learn there.
Look at your home, your bank statement, your possessions, your family, how you spend your time, how you think and feel and what you do: To whom do I belong? What does my life speak about me? Am I a child of this world or another? Where is my treasure? Is my life an open book or are there things hidden that I would be ashamed of were they known? Does Truth rule me? Am I being deceived? Deceiving myself? Others? Do I resemble my Father? Is my father who I think he is? These are not inconsequential questions…they will, if we consider them seriously, determine the course we take, keep us from catastrophic error, and define and motivate all of our actions. They are, very literally, the difference between heaven and hell.