26 If anyone thinks he is religious q and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s r religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction, and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
In James 1, James warns his readers on 3 occasions not to be deceived (v 16), not to deceive themselves (v 22) and here in the passage under investigation, not to deceive their hearts (v 21). In each case, deception happens by having a wrong perception of the truth: in v 16, thinking that temptations come from God, whereas God is in fact the one from whom all good things come, and he would never tempt one to do evil. Temptations come from one's own sinful desires which are left unchecked and therefore free to breed sin. In verse 22, the readers are warned against deceiving themselves by forgetting to put into practice his faith and living it out in their daily lives. A similar warning is given in verse 26. If one thinks one is a Christian simply because they are thinking or speaking of doing things for Christ, if they keep being unconcerned for that which God is concerned about, they simply deceive themselves. A Christian is concerned about the poor and needy and helps them practically, because God too is concerned about the poor and needy and helps them. The speech referred to in verse 26 also includes, I think, coarse or otherwise unbefitting language for a Christian (e.g. Eph 4:25, 29-31; 5:4; Col 3:8-9). This has to do with self-control which is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit & should grow in our lives. 'True religion' in God's eyes is, lastly, also increased Christlikeness, which in terms of James shows up as 'keeping oneself unstained form the world.' 1 Jn 2:15-17 warns the Christian too to keep oneself from loving the world and its desires - conforming to it (Ro 12:1-2). God wants our desires to be ever more focused on Him and what pleases Him and not what might please unbelieving relatives and friends. So true religion is shown in a lifestyle that imitates Christ - his love and concern for others, and the changed behaviour that is associated with it. A Christian is not a person who goes to church on Sunday but during the rest of the week care little about God and who he is and what he wants. Nor is he a person who merely speaks Christian talk without acting upon it. A Christian is a person who has God's desires and feelings in his/her own heart and pursues them every minute of every day.
Main point summary
Walk the Talk: True Christianity and faith is shown by daily action through controlled language, assisting the poor and needy and refusing to accept the standards of this world.
If anyone thinks he is religious
Don't think you are a Christian
q and does not bridle his tongue
if you can't control your speech
but deceives his heart,
you are merely deceiving yourself
this person’s r religion is worthless.
and don't realize that this is not true Christianity
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
But realize that what God our Father accepts as true Christianity
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
is to help the poor and needy
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
and to refuse to be drawn into the desires of the world around us.
So often one promises this or that and never keeps one's word. God warns us here not to deceive ourselves by thinking or speaking things we might do for him, but never putting them into practice. Or alternatively, one finds one says things that shock oneself if one thinks about it!
What God wants to see in our lives are truly changed hearts that are willing and quick to help those less fortunate than ourselves - not just talking about it, but doing it.
It is so easy to get drawn back into the desires and aspirations of non-Christians around us. While we are in the world, we must not be of it. In other words, God wants our whole being to be changed into his likeness, and our desires and wants to be guided by and focused on HIM, not ourselves or unbelieving friends.