Religion, according to God, is:
a.) a building
b.) an institution
c.) a set of beliefs
d.) a relationship
e.) all of the above
f.) none of the above
With all the definitions of religion you experience in the world, it’s incredible that the actual answer to this question is F – none of the above. The type of religion that God is actually looking for is a pure heart that results in actions and behaviors that are both loving and selfless.
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.
In this passage James gives you insight into what religion, or what you would more accurately understand as worship, looks like to God. Pure religion is not passive; it’s active. Pure worship is an outpouring of our heart (our essence or the core of who we are) to God. Your heart grows and develops according to whom you hang out with, what you focus on and where you spend your time. The more time you spend focusing on God (praise and worship), learning His word (studying the Bible) and hanging out with Him (prayer), the more like Him you will become.
Your soul, heart and mind are no different than your outer layers of skin, clothes and makeup. The dust, dirt and sweat of this world will keep you dirty unless you seek out the sink, shower and washing machine. Over time you notice how to avoid the mud puddles and hazards of your physical walk, but keep your spiritual walk similarly filtered. If you don’t take that time to know what is clean, it is so easy to become a slave to a corrupted world system that challenges your ability to take care of yourself and devote time to your friends, family and community.
. . . pure religion is not passive, it is active
As you spend this time with God, your desire to reach out to others in distress will increase as a reflection of the connection you have with Him. He asks you “to visit” others “in their trouble.” If you visit someone in their home, you are proactively stepping into their surroundings. It becomes a time when a conversation takes place. You give and receive. They give and receive. It becomes an especially strong bond because you’ve crossed that threshold that keeps you separated. In a few simple words, James implies worship is not confined by the closed walls of a building but in open windows that allow connection with others.
At the time of James’s writing, orphans and widows were the people in the greatest distress because they had no way to make a living and were unable to take care of themselves. Regardless of how these orphans and widows got into their dire circumstances God asked His people to care for them. The times have changed and society has allowed some means for those in trouble, but people-in-need remain. Today, think of the people you could visit in their trouble or isolation. Spend time with the elderly, serve and share at a soup kitchen, volunteer with the mentally or physically challenged. But do not forget those in trouble who may even be closer to your doorstep. As you walk the school halls or go about your day, reach out to the lonely, the disenfranchised or picked upon. It doesn’t take special skills or knowledge or training; notice that James did not list any certifications required to belong to this religion, you are asked merely to meet people where they are.
It doesn’t take special skills or knowledge or training;. . . just meet people where they are.
God wants us to reach out to help others in distress as a reflection of the fullness of the relationship we have with Him.
Always remember, if you find you have not visited those in need or have found yourself wrapped up by a contaminated world, James’s words aren’t there to condemn you. Jesus did not come into this world to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:16). If you yourself find the spotted world making you feel condemned rather than clean, call out. God may be sending someone down your path at that very moment to visit you.
As you evaluate your own progress in worship, allow God to remind you that He is not asking for you to have both a pure heart AND good behavior, but instead He knows that the state of your heart affects how you behave. If your heart is pure, over time your behavior will also become pure, so continue to seek God with your whole heart and He will make it pure.