Main point summary
Worthless religion is all talk, while true religion is action
If anyone thinks he is religious
If one were to assume he is righteous,
q and does not bridle his tongue
yet he does not watch what he says
but deceives his heart,
but instead greviously deceives himself,
this person’s r religion is worthless.
then his assumption of his righteousness is false and he is in fact not truly religious.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
On the other hand , pure and correct religion according to God our Father is this:
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
help the disenfranchised in their distress
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
and don't become polluted by the temptations and desires of the world
There are two options when it comes to religion. The first option is one of words. This option involves the "unchecked tongue", and leads to profound self-deception. It is easy to be taken with one's own wisdom, but it is equally easy to be deceived in thinking one's own wisdom is the sum of true religion. The assumption of religiosity is dangerous, especially if it is an assumption based purely on words. The second option is one of action. This is described as pure religion - not that words are unimportant or unnecessary for true religion, but words alone do not constitute religion approved by the Father. Action must not be limited to the self, that is, only involving spiritual disciplines in order to make oneself set apart from the world: true religious actions are succor to the poor and orphaned (which can and, in my opinion, should be interpreted as the disenfranchised). Action in true religion likewise cannot neglect the self; the truly religious will be distinctly set apart from the world in his righteousness. Therefore, true religion involves the tension of action in the world and distinction from the world. It is clear that James prefers the second option to the first, being the theme of his epistle in general; too often Christians are religious in words only and neglect deeds becoming of a true son or daughter of God. Further, deeds must not be solely for the benefit of oneself - this runs the risk of leading to the self-righteousness of the Pharisees; nor should deeds be limited solely to social justice - this runs the risk of losing the "otherness" that Christians are charged with being. True religion balances words with deeds, and deeds for the benefit not only of the self but also of those in need.