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 ESV
Religion is man’s attempt to reach God. It is man’s attempt to be GOOD ENOUGH for God, and we cannot do that. Romans 3:23 tells us, ALL fall short of the glory of God. We all need the blood of Jesus! When questioning Jesus, the rich young ruler had his greeting to Jesus, “Good Rabbi”, and Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone”. Jesus wanted to know if this young man believed He was God, or if He believed He could be GOOD ENOUGH, like Jesus, the Rabbi was. (Luke 18:19) God hates religion. Religion is man’s attempt to “CHECK THE BOXES” and obligate God to accept our deeds, our works, as payment and purchase of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus was incarnate, the regular target of His disappointment was focused on the religious leaders. All throughout the NEW TESTAMENT Jesus confronted the religious leaders woefully! In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounces “woes” on the scribes and Pharisees, the religious elite of the day. The word woe is an exclamation of grief, denunciation, or distress. This was not the first time Jesus had some harsh words for the religious leaders of His day, and is NOT the last. Jesus consistently criticized those who acted, HOLIER THAN THOU. Even telling His followers that this is NOT the way to the KINGDOM OF GOD! “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! (Matthew 5:20)
Leader, IN THE BEGINNING, in Genesis 10, we are introduced to the FATHER OF RELIGION, the first leader of the Babylonian Empire, Nimrod! Cush was the father of Nimrod, who began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; so it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD.” His kingdom began in Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth into Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen, which is between Nineveh and the great city of Calah. (Gen 10:8-12) Remember Nineveh? The great city that Jonah preached to and saved and that between 100 and 150 years later, the prophet Nahum, prophesied from afar that it will finally be destroyed, after they returned to their wickedness- after repenting under the preaching of Jonah. We can see that religion comes from a cursed line, from the darkest side of man. In Genesis 10: 6 we read; The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. Ham was accursed because of the great sin he committed against his Father Noah. The curse of Ham (actually placed upon Ham’s son Canaan), occurs in the context of Noah’s drunkenness and is provoked by a shameful act perpetrated by Noah’s son Ham, who “saw the nakedness of his father”. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment and placed it across their shoulders, and walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his drunkenness and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” (Genesis 9:22-25) ‘The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ (Numbers 14:18)
Conduit, today’s verse is not talking about RELIGION, in the same way we just explained religion. Elliot’s Commentary puts it this way: “… religion here is meant as religious service. No one word can express this obvious interpretation of the original, taken as it must be in completion of the verse before; and certainly “religion” in its ordinary sense will not convey the right idea. Real worship, we may say, pure and undefiled, beheld and acknowledged as such in the presence of God, even the Father–mark the tender pathos of His divine relationship–is this: To visit the fatherless (or, orphans) and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. –Here is the double proof of the perfect life of holiness, the savior whereof is as perpetual incense before the throne of God. And the help afforded to the helpless, put thus in the first place of the two requirements, will often bring about the second–namely, that spotless condition of unworldliness which marks, and will ever mark, the true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Deeds of benevolence may be and are often done by those who are not His; but all who truly belong to Him must live a life which praises Him continually in good works; not, it is hardly needful to say, as a cause–but rather the natural and inevitable result of love for Him, warming the heart within”. Isaiah told us that to God, our “good works” are but FILTHY RAGS! (Isaiah 64:6) The great reformation was all about the 5 Solas: Grace alone, by Faith alone, through Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone, with the Bible alone! Paul says clearly that we are SAVED by faith alone and not by works: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) James does NOT negate these statements when He says in James 2:17,” faith by itself, if it does not result in action, is dead”. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26) What is being said in today’s verse and by Paul, Isaiah, James, and our Lord- is that we are JUSTIFIED NOT by good works, but UNTO GOOD WORKS! Love is a VERB. God loves us so much that He did something about it! (John 3:16) God is telling us, if we LOVE Him, love what HE did for us, then we are to LOVE OTHERS and be the feet and hands of God! Today be a CONDUIT and let GOD’S love shine through you, as HIS LOVE drives you to visit the least: Orphans and widows- people without family, people in need, broken people. Amen!