We’ve been talking for a few days about serving the needy and the poor. Throughout the Bible we are told to care for the needy. Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble. The Lord protects and preserves them—they are counted among the blessed in the land—He does not give them over to the desire of their foes. The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.” (Psalm 41:1-3) 

While we do have the promise of being rewarded, we aren’t to help others for the benefit of ourselves. The Pharisees gave to others so that they were seen by others and received accolades here on earth. Contrary to that James said: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

There is constant friction between the flesh and the Holy Spirit that dwells in the hearts of those who have accepted Christ as personal Savior. The flesh seeks personal satisfaction above all else and will stop at nothing to gain whatever pleases its desires, while the Holy Spirit purposes the sovereign will of God that does not conform to man but convicts and holds man accountable to the standard of Scripture.

It is this dichotomy that James highlights when he defines what pure religion is. Does this necessarily mean there is nothing else that contributes to the picture of pure religion? Absolutely not, but what James appears to be pointing to in this example is the importance of being selfless and self-controlled.

Visiting orphans and widows in affliction requires a recognition that others have great needs that in some way we can remedy. It is an example/metaphor to highlight the need for us to abandon our self-centered bent toward the flesh and intentionally seek out those who are less fortunate. It signifies selflessness which James highlights as a sign of pure religion we should strive to emulate.

The other mark of pure religion James states is self-control that inhibits secular theology from becoming our personal theology. Self-control identifies our Christian faith, for Jesus exemplified this characteristic in His sacrifice for our sins. He submitted in obedience and relinquished His will to the Father, and we are called to identify ourselves the same way in self-control over sin and temptation. For if we desire that our faith be pure in application, selflessness and self-control must be our identity as Christ-followers, otherwise we are no different from the world and essentially undermine the very faith we profess.