Main point summary
A true Christian is proven not by having the right knowledge, but through knowledge-empowered action.
If anyone thinks himself to be religious,
Εἴ τις δοκεῖ θρησκὸς εἶναι
If anyone seems to be religious,
and yet does not 1 a bridle his tongue
μὴ χαλιναγωγῶν γλῶσσαν αὐτοῦ
even though he is not holding his tongue in check,
but deceives his own heart,
ἀλλʼ ἀπατῶν καρδίαν αὐτοῦ,
but rather is deceiving his own heart
this man’s religion is worthless.
τούτου μάταιος ἡ θρησκεία.
then this religion of his is powerless.
Pure and undefiled religion a in the sight of our God and Father is this:
θρησκεία καθαρὰ καὶ ἀμίαντος παρὰ τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὕτη ἐστίν,
On the other hand , this is religion that is clean and pure before our God and Father:
to b visit c orphans and widows in their distress,
ἐπισκέπτεσθαι ὀρφανοὺς καὶ χήρας ἐν τῇ θλίψει αὐτῶν,
to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering,
and to keep oneself unstained 1 by d the world.
ἄσπιλον ἑαυτὸν τηρεῖν ἀπὸ τοῦ κόσμου.
as well as to keep oneself unstained from the world.
True Christianity is proven not only by what we think but also by what God sees. Claiming to belong to God means nothing if that claim is not demonstrated through action. We can think rightly concerning the Word and hold on to true doctrine, but until that Word is humbly received and acted upon, we are only deceiving ourselves. This kind of religion is powerless, worthless and untrue. We can think ourselves to be religious, we can seem to be religious to others, but the real test of what we are is seen by our actions, down to the very words that come out of our mouths. Jesus made this clear to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-37 : " You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words, you shall be condemned ." True religion is demonstrated not by what is thought concerning a person (either by himself or by others). Rather, true religion is demonstrated by what comes forth from that person. What does God see in your religion? This is the only question that counts when examining ourselves. When it comes to our own spiritual state, what ultimately matters is what God sees in us; not what we think we see in ourselves. James tells us God's understanding of true religion: action produced by a knowledge of the truth. It is indeed by the word of truth that the Father caused us to be born again or brought forth (James 1:18). But the proof that we have been brought forth by that word of truth is not a knowledge of it, however sound our knowledge may be. The proof is in the action that knowledge produces in us. True religion in God's sight consists of action empowered by the knowledge of the truth. This is why he calls for us to prove ourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (1:22) . To be fair, knowing the truth and not acting according to it is still action: it is an act of deception (James 1:22, 26). And the only person we are deceiving is ourselves: as James says, we are deceiving " our own hearts ". If we desire to be truly religious, to be acceptable in God's sight, we must, in humility, receive the implanted Word of Truth, and then be doers of that word. One element of true religion is living sacrificially for the sake of others. And nothing tests one's genuine love and desire for the truth like the trial of caring for the lowly and the broken. This is what God sees as true religion. It consists of action conforming to that of His own Beloved Son; He Who, " though He was rich" yet for our sake became poor that we through His poverty might become rich . (2 Cor. 8:9). How we care for the lowly among us manifests how pure and undefiled our religion truly is. But pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God is not limited to the way we treat our fellow man. Coupled to this is another defining characteristic of true religion. It is the way we treat our God. Do we live sacrificially for the sake of Him Whom our soul loves? James later denounces those who desire to be a friend to the world and the things of the world. Those who are lustful for things, and envious of others, who ask with motives of satisfying their own pleasures, these are those whom James calls adulteresses, explaining : do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. The mark of true religion is love for God... a love which drives us to keep ourselves unstained by the world for His sake! Does our knowledge of truth lead us to live sacrificially for others? And, does the knowledge of the truth lead us to cast off the defilement of the world, and live holy and righteous lives before God? Does our knowledge of the truth lead us to live for the God of truth, seeking to be unstained by the world, following our Lord Jesus and the Father of lights from a genuine love for Him and desire to know Him? Again, what does God see in your religion?