What does God want from us? James tells us to what to do - but the surprising focus is self-renovation rather than just good works!
Published May 7th, 2017
Main point summary
The kind of religion God the Father is looking for is based on care for the needy and care for your own righteousness. Anything else that we come up with is worthless.
thinks he is religious
who considers himself a believer
q and does not bridle his tongue
but whose tongue is out of control
but deceives his heart,
this person’s r religion is worthless.
This kind of religion has no value!
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
On the other hand, what God the Father considers pure religion is
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
to care for those in need
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
and to avoid being polluted by the world
In this chapter James contrasts the hearer who forgets with the person who acts. In the next chapter James argues repeatedly that faith without works is dead. This is not the place for a Luther vs James argument! Indeed, "works" is not referred to in the first chapter. The focus is on "doing". Or is it? Let's see what James says in these last two verses and how they fit with the rest of the opening chapter. Firstly, the problem identified is not mere hearing but THINKING. The solution is to care for widows and orphans. That is certainly DOING but James also adds the need to keep oneself unstained from the world. That sounds like a very different kind of acting! It's doing things internally. Keeping oneself unstained from the world has to begin with out thoughts! So, thinking is not necessarily bad! No, James talks about thinking that deceives as the wrong kind of deception. Three times in this chapter James brings out the idea of deception (1:16, 22, 26). Positive mental activity that is commended by James is: Being joyful in trials (2) Asking God for wisdom (5) Boasting in being lowly (9) Being steadfast under trial (12) Welcoming the perfect gift of the word (17-18; 21) Being slow to speak, and slow to anger (19) Putting off sinful habits (21) So, the only place where "doing" is specifically described as "good works" is in v27 (caring for widows and orphans). My conclusion is that the major focus in this chapter is growing in righteousness and the list above demonstrates the multiple ways we are to engage in that. It does involve DOING but it is about renovating ourselves rather than fixing the world!