True religion…and no, I’m not talking about the very overpriced designer jeans. I’m also not referring to a list of legalistic rules that neglects relationship. I am, however looking at James 1:27 right now, and my heart is deeply convicted by the words within this one verse to such a degree that I can’t help but tell you about it.
“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.”
For a few years now, I’ve made it a habit in my prayer life to ask the Lord to break my heart for what breaks His. It may sound like a strange thing to pray, but my motive behind these words is that my heart’s desires, longings, and affections would be in accordance with God’s, that I would want what He wants, despise what He despises, and bleed for the things that break His heart. Throughout the Gospels, I see over and over again how Jesus prioritized the marginalized, the poor, the needy, and the broken. Regardless of how society treated these, Jesus was drawn to them. So, I’ve been forced to ask myself a few questions lately as I reflect on my own faith.
If God defines true religion that is pure and undefiled as visiting orphans and widows and looking after the needs of the poor, I must ask myself what part of my life is characterized by those things. How does my life reflect radical compassion for the least of these? How are my time and resources being spent to meet the needs of those less fortunate? If my heart truly breaks for these people, how are my actions displaying that? James 2:26 reminds us all that faith without works is dead. You just can’t have faith and no works. They must accompany one another. Now, by no means do our good works save us. Ephesians 2:8 makes it very clear that we are saved by grace through faith alone. Our works do not achieve for us salvation; rather they are evidence of our salvation. Genuine faith results in good works. Loving like Jesus loved is the natural outpouring of a sinner saved by grace. We simply cannot get away with talking the talk but not walking the walk. If we really believe something, we do it.
So, as I wrestle with these realities in my life, I invite you to join me in the process. True religion that Christ honors is not attending church every weekend, and going to Bible study, and praying before meals. Faith requires action. Let’s begin to see the face of Jesus in the eyes of the hurting and the hopeless. Because one day when we stand before the Lord to give an account for our lives, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ –Matthew 25:40