Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
We live in an entertainment culture, but the Christian life isn’t a spectator sport. We live in an age of instant news coverage and blogs on all kinds of topics, but the Spirit of Christ in us isn’t content with analysis. When Christ’s grace and truth penetrate our hearts, we are compelled to take action. We notice people in need, and we jump to help them. We hear of people who have an opportunity to touch lives, and we call to offer assistance. No, we can’t just sit around any longer. We want to get our hands dirty and make a difference.
Jesus warned us not to practice our faith in front of an audience to win applause (see Matthew 6:1–6) Instead, He told us to give, pray, and serve in secret, where only God knows what we’re doing. James had the same idea. He said that we could tell if we truly possess a “pure and undefiled religion” if we are willing to go to the down-and-out, the ones who are usually forgotten, and meet their needs. In the first century in Palestine, the forgotten people were widows and orphans. Today, these people certainly are on the list, but so are the thousands of homeless people in our cities and the tens of thousands of prisoners in our jails. What are we doing to touch their lives, what will we do today?
But James adds the insight that true faith suffices in another choice we make to stay away from sinful attitudes, words, and actions. The real thing, then, is a choice to live for Christ in inward lives of purity and outward expression of helping the unfortunate. Both are essential
“Sympathy is no substitute for action”.
The call of the gospel has always been to action. It could be no other for the One who calls is a Being of action. The opening pages of the Bible teach us that God wasn’t content being alone in nothingness so He went to work. That’s obvious from the statement in Genesis that tells us that God rested on the seventh day. His work wasn’t for Himself for we read that He created it all to give to the human He had formed in His own image. He calls Adam and Eve to the work of tending the Garden. When they fell into sin, God didn’t sit idly by but sought them out in the Garden where they hid themselves in shame. It was God who built a bridge between fallen humanity and Himself through the sacrifice of an innocent animal. On that day He proclaimed that in due season He would become more intensely involved in the redemption of fallen humanity through the giving of His Son. God could have looked and shook His head and turned back to expanding the universe or creating new worlds or whatever He wished to do but those humans had captured His heart so He went to work to bring them back to Himself.
What a great undertaking it was to redeem us- buy us back- from Satan who had enslaved us in sin. What a display of grace, mercy and compassion that caused Christ to lay aside His glory and clothe Himself in flesh and come into this world that was dominated by the devil and sin as a helpless tiny baby; trusting a little human girl to nurture and care for Him. What a risk God took for us.
We read that Christ had time for children, lame people, and beggars. He wasn’t fearful to connect with lepers and social outcasts such as Zachaeus and the woman at the well.
All of this to set an example for us to follow. As He passed by the boats of James and John, He called the to come follow Him. Not to tag along and watch Him work but to become “fishers of men.” Christ wasn’t calling them to be observers or spectators but workers in the kingdom. As a matter of fact He told them, and us, that they and us would do the works He did and even greater works. The Christian and the church has not been called to sit idly by as spectators while those who suffer or are in need perish. Moreover we certainly aren’t called to leave them in spiritual darkness. Jesus was clear that His mission was to “seek and save those who are lost.” We might ask ourselves who is it that God is calling us to touch, to love, to lead, to help, to lift, to encourage? My answer is all those that cross our path. In the Gospels, Christ tells of those whom are invited to a feast. They began to make excuses why they can’t come. The response of the master is powerful for he is the figure of Christ. When the feast begins and there is still room he instructs the servants to do a radical thing.
“Then the master told the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled [with guests].”
Sometimes we wish to gather those who are just like us so that our church will stay like us but just maybe like those that were invited to the feast, they keep making excuses. Perhaps it’s time to visit the highways and hedges and give an invitation to the forgotten, the “lepers,” or those so far down in the pit of sin that they have given up. We dare not ignore James’ definition of pure and undefiled religion any longer.
Will you answer the call of Christ? I’m not asking you to answer a call from me or some pastor. I’m not asking you to answer the call of some church or some ministry to become a volunteer. I’m asking you if you will drop your nets and follow Christ in the work of God.
Dr. John Thompson