I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, (2 Timothy 1:3, NKJV)
The conscience distinguishes us from birds, beasts, and fish. They operate on instinct to survive. Humans have been created in the image of God, unlike animals, and the conscience is one such distinguishing trait (Gen. 1:27). The conscience is a moral monitor of what we accept to be right and wrong, but not necessarily of what is right in God’s sight. It is not the standard of right and wrong – God’s word is. (Jiminy Cricket was wrong when he told Pinocchio to “always let your conscience be your guide.”) We can believe and act incorrectly, and yet our conscience can commend us in the error (Acts 23:1; 26:9). The conscience is like an early warning system, monitoring our choices and conduct to help us avoid moral danger. But, we have to train it with God’s truth for it to operate accurately. Just like sensors are adjusted and cleaned so they alert us of danger, our conscience must be “set” (educated) with God’s word and kept pure to accurately warn us of moral threats (see 1 Tim. 4:1-3). God cannot be served when our conscience is defiled by sin and error (Tit. 1:15). Jesus died to cleanse our consciences from “dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). It is up to us to educate and train our conscience with God’s word, and to keep it pure by serving God according to His truth.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17–18, NKJV)
Just as the wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, and demonic” has identifiable traits (bitter envy, self-seeking, pride, lies, and confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), so does the wisdom from above. God-approved wisdom is marked by dignified purity, and so is “consecrated to the service and glory of God” (Lange). With God as its object, wisdom from above has a social character that reflects innocence toward men and women. This wisdom is peaceable (not warring, Jas. 4:1). It is gentle – mild, moderate, fair, and just in its judgments and treatment of others. Approved wisdom is “willing to yield,” it is easily entreated, “open to reason” (ESV). Wisdom hears all the evidence instead of entrenching itself without reason against it. It is full of mercy and it bears the impartial, genuine fruit of compassion. Because of its nature, heavenly wisdom plants the seeds of peace (not hostile confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), and so produces peace (Matt. 5:9). Let us pursue the wisdom that is from above and bear the fruit of righteousness.
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. (James 1:27, NKJV)
James does not make excuses for the religious person who will not bring his tongue and heart under the control of God’s word (James 1:22-26). With striking contrast, he now identifies the person who is clean and unstained before God. It is the person whose actions match his words and deeds. It is the person who attends to the needs of the homeless and widows. Moved by compassion, this person relieves their suffering as he is able, just like the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). This is not a church-coordinated action, arranged by committee and financed by a church treasury. It is the action of the person whose religion is “pure and undefiled.” This same person is careful to guard his moral purity by withholding himself (or herself) from the defilement of the world (1 John 2:15-16). This person knows he or she lives before the true God who sees every action and knows every thought and motive of the heart. Devote yourself to the pure and undefiled religion that is revealed in God’s perfect law of liberty. Be a doer of its work and you will be blessed (James 1:25).
5 Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. 6 Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5–6, NKJV)
As an assayer tests the purity of silver and gold, God’s word stands the test of purity. It has been tried in the crucible of conflict, rebellion, rejection, and alienation by men. With the word of God, His people have weathered every storm of attack from faithless foes. His word continues to stand, while its adversaries lie in the ash heap of history. Undaunted, men and women of faith trust in the word of God, and are delivered. That is why they dare not add to it or take away from it. It does its work as it stands, undefiled and incorruptible. We shall never be persuaded that God’s word is out of date – far from it. It is living and active, powerful and pure. God’s word is able to save the lost and protect the saved. It is indeed “a shield to those who put their trust in Him.” Respect it, believe it, obey it. To do less will bring God’s rebuke upon those who simply pretend to trust Him.