James is not talking about religion and its rituals, but the expression of religion – which is worship. And he says that ‘true worship, pure and undefiled… is to visit the widows and the fatherless in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.’ He has been, in the previous verses, striking at various forms of self-deception, such as that a man should conceive himself to be all right, because he listens to the law, and then goes away and forgets it, or that a man should think himself a real worshipper, while he does not bridle his tongue, and then he states the general principle – worship is to give glory to God, have active goodness and kindness, and the worshipers should keep themselves pure.
In the first century, orphans and widows had very little means of economic support. Unless a family member was willing to care for them, they were reduced to begging, selling themselves as slaves, or starving. To be transformed into the image of Christ means to increasingly reflect His loving, compassionate character in our behavior. Therefore, if we are not becoming more loving toward others—especially the most helpless of our society—we have taken a wrong turn somewhere. We have either neglected our relationship with Him or have disobeyed His commands. By caring for these powerless people, the church and members of the church put God’s Word into practice. When we give with no hope of receiving in return, we show what it means to serve others – and that is giving grace!
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (1 John 2:15) The world does not refer to the physical creation, but to the sphere of evil operating in our world under the dominion of Satan. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) According to the MacArthur Study Bible, there are only two types of people that exist in the world according to John: children of God and children of Satan. One belongs either to God or to the evil world system that is Satan’s domain. No one can belong to both families simultaneously. Either one belongs to God’s family and exhibits His righteous character or one belongs to Satan’s family and exhibits his sinful nature. “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” (1 John 3:10)
Because the whole world belongs to Satan, Christians should avoid its contamination. This means there should be something different and godly in the way we do business and treat others. There also should be some clear differences in the way we raise our children. Our marriages should testify to the love of Christ. Those outside the church should feel powerfully attracted to the unity and love they see among believers.
The world offers sin. “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galations 5:19-21) Jesus offers redemption. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7) To keep ourselves unspotted (unstained) from the world, we must lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and must purify our hearts. Only the purity received by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus’ shed blood will render us whiter than snow, a white that no launderer on earth can reproduce.
The hearing of the Gospel introduces a new perspective in a person’s religious experience. It is the perfect law that gives freedom. “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:25). Compared with the OT law as it was practiced, the Gospel offers a feeling of fulfillment by way of release from an enslaving law. It takes the spotlight off oneself alone and draws others into the circle of interest. The older law was reduced to ceremony (the facet of religion), but the newer one is not realized unless it issues in deeds of service, especially to the most needy.
Are you listening more to the Word of God or to the world?