Main point summary
Worthless, duplicitous devotion exposed; God-revealing, meaningful devotion expressed.
God was speaking to a people that were in the midst of a powder keg of religious fervor. As Jewish nationalism was increasingly confused with true religion, God spoke through James to lead His children in gospel-motivated lives.
If anyone thinks he is religious
If a person perceives himself to be blessed in his religious devotion
q and does not bridle his tongue
and says whatever he is impassioned about
but deceives his heart,
but instead deceives himself at the deepest level of his being,
this person’s r religion is worthless.
[then] this person's religious devotion is worth nothing.
Religion that is pure and undefiled
[However] Religious devotion that is good in God's eyes and is without sinful stain
before God, the Father, is this:
in the presence of God the Father acts like this:
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
Caring for the physical and spiritual needs of orphans and widows when they are in distress,
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
[and also] to guard oneself from the soul-corrupting influences of the world.
Verse 26. God begins by exposing worthless, duplicitous religious zeal. Paul spoke about these kinds of people in Rom. 10:2 as having " a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge ." The zeal of those around these Christians would spout off about the Romans or other things that they took offence to. In reality, these speak-whatever-is-on-your-mind people had to lie to themselves that this kind of talk was how true religion expressed itself. In only a couple decades, those uncontrolled tongues would combine with an insurrection that would lead to the end of the nation of Israel.
Verse 27a-b. Father God calls his children to a better way, a gospel way. He reminds James that there is such a thing as good religious devotion that really can be good in God's eyes. But it cannot be mixed with any self-deception or hypocrisy. Just how does this God-exposing, gospel-expressing devotion act?
Verse 27c-d. First, because God is a Father to us, pure devotion will seek to let the most vulnerable experience the fatherhood of God in their protective care of distressed orphans and widows. Second, God-exposing, gospel-expressing devotion will be more affected by the captivating influence of God than the corrupting influence of the world.