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).
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. (James 1:26, NKJV)
This warning from the inspiration’s pen is penetrating, straightforward and universal in application. It strikes at the very heart of self-righteousness and the hypocrisy it so readily breeds. No one is so greatly deceived as he who thinks he is something when he is nothing (Galatians 6:3). James is telling us that what we think about our personal piety does not make it so. Being actively religious does not insure one’s usefulness and acceptability to God. The heart is deceived that thinks the fruit of its lips have no bearing on its virtue. The tongue that wags with backbiting gossip, profane innuendos or contentious murmurings exposes a heart that is not devoted to God. Such language reveals a heart that is devoted to itself. The heart from which such language spews shows it is willing to hurt others (while justifying itself). We must bring our tongues under control by bringing our hearts under control. We do that by looking into the perfect law of liberty and being doers of the word (James 1:22-25).
21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:21–23, NKJV)
People have long taken pride in the creeds they write and the confessions they profess. The traditions of men often and quickly become “the commandments and doctrines of men” that are elevated above the commands of God (Mark 7:1-13). Binding the religious conventions and innovations of men as if they are the will of the Almighty is an utterly futile and fruitless exercise. Worship must be according to truth, not what pleases us (Jno. 4:24). Lives must be holy, not merely adapt to current social norms (1 Pet. 1:15-16). The church is not our plaything, it is the temple of God and must not house idolatrous worship. The traditions of men will never be an adequate substitute for the commandments of God. All who wish to please God will approach Him with humble obedient faith, careful to offer Him the service that obeys His word (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:5; Matt. 7:21-23).