January 19, 2019
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James just can’t leave this business of deception behind.
At 1:16 he warned, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.”
At 1:22 he warned again, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.”
Now today he says it again at v.26, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
Chances are no one reading this (or the one writing it) actually thinks they are being deceived. That’s how deception works. We don’t know it when its happening. So what are we to do? Should we go around suspicious of everyone and wary of being tricked? No. The danger is not from other people. It is from ourselves. The issue is self-deception. Anyone who has lived any amount of time knows that a human person has an almost infinite capacity to deceive themselves. It’s why people cheat on their taxes and steal from their employers. It’s how people rationalize extramarital affairs. It’s how preachers find their way into pornography. It’s why virtually everyone in prison today considers themselves innocent. When it comes to self-deception, there are infinite shades of gray. In all of these situations people manage to talk a good game when it comes to religious faith.
Back in 1:21 James gave us a helpful admonition. “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
Look at the seemingly disconnected admonition he offers today: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
What does looking after widows and orphans have to do with overcoming self-deception? Maybe it has something to do with our inability to think our way or read our way or pray our way out of the grip of self-deception. Could it be that self-deception can only be broken by the sobering activity of selfless giving? What if “true religion” is the only way out of false faith? The crazy thing about impure and faulty religion is people can hold all the right beliefs and maintain all the right religious motions yet still be steeped in false faith.
I mostly see this happen when church people go on a mission trip. They find themselves in an orphanage somewhere south of the equator, far from the wiley comforts of suburban seductions and small town distractions. An inescapable confrontation begins to happen. Their hearts begin to break over the kind of human need and suffering that breaks the heart of God. A kind of awakening begins to happen. True religion, in the way James identifies it, has a way of exposing the self deceiving ways of false religion like nothing else can.
God our Father, I want to be a real Christian. I don’t think I am deceived, which is likely a good sign that I am. Break the deception in me. Show me the path toward true religion, which is selfless giving to those who need it the most. Break me out of the hall of mirrors that my life so easily becomes. In Jesus name, Amen.
1. According to today’s text, we don’t “keep ourselves from being polluted by the world,” by escaping the world. It happens as we enter into the broken world in a different way. Does this make sense to you? How?
2. Have you had an experience of practicing “true religion” as James describes it? Did it open your eyes to see the world and faith differently? How? Can you think of a person whose life and faith was transformed by helping others in need?
3. How does looking after orphans and widows in their distress break through the smoke screen of self deceived religion? What does it expose about our churches? Our own faith and values?
For the Awakening,