“What Makes Religious Activity Worthwhile?”
3 Characteristics of a True Christian
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 1.26-27
James 1. For 40 years, Piltdown man was evolution’s proof of the missing link, one of the “earliest humans.” Then a startling discovery proved him to be an enormous fraud.
In early 1912 fossil hunter Charles Dawson brought the first finds of the Piltdown man to the British Museum. Immediately the finder became famous, and soon other fragments of the “Missing link” began coming in from Dawson. The find was even named “Eoanthropus dawsone—Dawson’s Dawn Man.”
However, forty years later scientists found that Dawson had deceived them. The jaw had come from a modern ape, with the faker staining it mahogany with iron salt and bi-crow-mate. An oil paint, probably red sienna, had stained the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Further tests revealed every fragment of the Piltdown a forgery. It was probably the greatest hoax perpetrated on the scientific community in history.
Now… we enjoy making a mockery of evolution. But more important… some Christians are frauds. Many Christian’s religious activities are meaningless, worthless, proving themselves not to be born again. Let’s read…
James 1:26–27 26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
I’d like to preach on What makes religious activity worthwhile? 3 characteristics of a true Christian.
Proposition: Your religious activity, like church attendance, prayer, bible reading, giving, witnessing, singing…your religious outward activity is worthless unless your life lines up with James’ 3 characteristics: controlled speech, compassionate life, no stains from the world.
If you don’t have these 3 characteristics in your life and you think you are religious, you are self-deceived, James says… You deceive your own heart and your religion is worthless.
You right now think you are religious. You do. Just by listening to this message you are performing a religious activity. That’s this word: religious. When you pray…or you read your Bible…or if you have been baptized…that’s a religious activity. Family Bible time, or family devotions is a religious activity. If you attend church, you are religious in the Bible sense of that word.
So, you are religious. And that’s what’s being discussed here, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious” and that’s you. And it’s your religious activity that’s under discussion in this passage. Is what you do in all your religious activity… Is it worth it? Or is it worthless, like the end of verse 26 says, “This man’s religion is vain/worthless.”
So, James says that there is much religious activity, but in the end it is useless, worthless, empty. That word vain at the end of verse 26 is used to describe idols and idol worship. That’s what much of people’s religious activity is: it is empty just like the worship of idols is empty. It’s pointless, it’s a waste of time, you might as well be watching cartoons on Sunday morning because in God’s eyes, what you’re doing is pointless, without aim, it’s all burned up in the end.
What a frightening prospect.
And again, we have the possibility of deceiving yourself. Verse 26,
James 1:26 26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
You could possibly be deceived.
Even right now… as you listen to this message, you think that you are religious and that your religious activity is worthwhile in God’s sight, but the whole time, even as you listen to this message, you are self deceived. In other words, there are people who believe that what they are doing is good in God’s sight. But really they are self-deceived. They really think that all their religious activity is worth something, but the whole time, they are deceived about it. They don’t know what’s really going on…their religion is not worth anything.
There are thousands of Christians whose religion is not worth anything: They don’t know that their ushering is worthless, that their singing in the choir is vain, that their giving is empty, that their prayers are not worth it.
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious” and you do or you wouldn’t be here! You, my friend, could be deceived into thinking that your religious activity is worthwhile.
Is your religious activity worthwhile? Is it acceptable to God? Does God view what you do for him as pure and undefiled? Don’t go throughout the rest of your life from this moment on tolerating a worthless religious life.
James has been hitting us with a ton of bricks and this morning is no different. Usually I try to aim for a warm tone in messages…but you can’t preach these verses with a whole lot of warmth. James is aiming at conviction.
Your religious activity is worthless if you don’t control your speech
James 1:26 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.
Bridle the tongue
You must bridle your tongue. Bridle is horse language. Your tongue is like a wild horse. You know what it’s like to be next to 1100 pounds of muscle bound power…it’s a little intimidating when that flesh starts to get irritated and buck.
So what do you do? You put a bridle on it…you put that equipment on the horse’s head to direct him. And when you gain skill in horsemanship, you’ll guide that horse perfectly most of the time.
Your tongue is just like that. It’s a small member of your body but in its power is the whole world of iniquity or great blessing. And trust me, when your tongue starts to buck and get irritated, it’s not a little intimidating. You need to put a bridle on it.
Those whose Christian life is worthwhile… Those whose religion is not worthless, they bridle their tongue. They control their speech! True Christians control their tongues and grow.
APP: Did you practice this this morning on the way to church? Many of you had to drive for more than 25 minutes to get to church and you had plenty of time to talk…btw, thank you for coming…but did you control your speech on the way, or was the drive worthless?
Galatians 5:22–23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Controlling your speech is required for all of your other religious activity to be worthwhile in God’s sight. And controlling your tongue is an evidence that you are a genuine Christian.
Now, let me clarify, this is not speaking of occasional failures in your speech. But as your habitual way of life, do you fail to control your speech? Have you made any improvements in your ability to control your speech since you professed Christ?
Proverbs 15:2 2 The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly.
Proverbs 15:28 28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Are you a righteous person or a wicked person?
Proverbs 10:32 32 The lips of the righteous bring forth what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked what is perverted.
Are you a righteous person or a wicked person? These are very clear tests.
So, if someone says he’s a Christian but he doesn’t control his tongue, his religious activities are meaningless to God. He has no real fruit. And so his relationship with God is in question. Again, this is habitual, a lifestyle. We’re not talking about the occasional slip up.
APP: I don’t know about you, but I know for me personally the times where I’ve been the most grieved about my sin is when I’ve been grieved over what came out of my mouth.
A test of true religion: It’s not what movies you watch, who you vote for, or how you dress, saith the Lord… A test of true religion is what comes out of your mouth.
With some preaching,you get the idea that as long as you don’t look at pornography, watch rated R movies, and don’t listen to rock music, everything is ok. That is not the true test of Christian living. How’s your speech? That’s a true test. Where is harping on that?
And that’s because … “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Your tongue will reveal what’s filling your heart. If anger, then anger. If blasphemy, then blasphemy.
Especially when you are at your weakest moments…you’re tired, stressed, your tongue will reveal what’s really in your heart…how you really view others, your slander.
Ephesians 4:29 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
Are your kids afraid of what you’ll say next? Is your wife regularly intimidated? Does your husband cringe when he sees you open your mouth when you’re feeling like that? … Do your friends cringe when you speak? Do your friends know you love gossip? Do you know how to control your tongue?
Comparatively, it’s easy to avoid adultery; it’s easy to avoid murder, stealing, egging houses, but try controlling your tongue. Someone who chooses his words carefully, is passionate about being accurate and honest, and is kind and doesn’t reveal all his mind, even though it’s true…this is someone who controls his tongue.
You would get to know me eventually if you lived with me. You know, I could put on a front here at church and sound all religious at the pulpit, but eventually you’d get to know the real me by listening to what I talk about and how I say what I say. It’s the same with you…
ILL: A talkative woman once tried to justify the quickness of her own tongue by saying, “It passes; it is done with quickly.” To which the famous evangelist Billy Sunday replied, “So does a shotgun blast.”
And that can be the same as your tongue, it might be over with quickly, but it also destroys all within earshot.
Don’t be deceived! If you are regularly not controlling your tongue … If your tongue is known for being like a bucking bronco… How you cut down others, often are wrathful and slander or making fun of people, ridiculing them… It is certain your religious activity is worthless and doubtful if you are born again.
A bridled tongue, controlled speech is a sign that a person is saved. The power of God that saves you is the power that will control you tongue. The power of God that saves you is the power that will control you tongue.
Because, when you’re convicted of your sin and when you really get a view of God in Jesus Christ, God’s going to convict you about your speech. That’s the way it was with Isaiah.
Isaiah 6:1–5 1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord [John says this vision is of Jesus] sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds [shook] at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because […here we go]…I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
If God has revealed himself to you, you’ll be convicted about your speech.
A man’s speech will convict him if he’s a saved person. And controlling will take place if he is indeed righteous.
Don’t be deceived! Don’t be foolish and maintain a form of religion, only denying its power. Don’t be all into church attendance and outward shows of religion and worship if you’ve never been convicted of your speech…. because it could be that all this time God has nothing in you…and in the end, you be shut out of God’s kingdom forever.
If you claim to be a Christian, there are certain things that will disqualify your claim: and one of them is uncontrolled speech…
1 Co. 6:9 says that these things disqualify your claim: if you live a life of a …fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, and homosexuals,…they don’t inherit God’s Kingdom.
Also, Revelation 21:8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
And James 1:26 says that uncontrolled speech also contradicts your claim. A terrifying reality…
TRANS: But if you in fact control your speech, your religious activity is worthwhile. It’s worth it to keep going. But if you don’t control your tongue, why not give up? Who wants to do something that’s worthless? Give it up … repent. Ask for cleansing. And so what is acceptable religious activity? If you control your speech, what is religious activity that God deems to be righteous, pure, undefiled? It’s not just words, it’s actions! Let your walk talk…but how…secondly…
“Acceptable religious activity means you must lead a compassionate life”
Just like the The power of God that saves you is the power that will control you tongue. …so also the compassion of God that saves you is the compassion that will be in your heart for others if you’re saved
James 1:27 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress
Orphans and Widows in distress
Caring for orphans and widows. Orphans and widows in the first century were the epitome of those who needed help. In the first century there were no social programs to help those in need. So orphans and widows were solely dependent on the help of others. They were constantly in distress. Where would their next meal come from? But it’s not like these were the only people were to help. If they aren’t an orphan or a widow, don’t bother helping them. That’s certainly not the point. Orphans and widows are the epitome of those who need help but could never repay you.
What’s our response to such people?
Luke 6:35 35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”
Are you kind to ungrateful and evil people? Or do you reach out to those in need?
This isn’t talking about having people over who are kind to you; inviting people over for a meal … the people whom you like. This is befriending the unlovely, caring for those who can’t pay you back anything.
In our society today, we don’t see very many needy people. You can’t walk into churches, or even into many towns, and know where there those in need are. It’s tough to apply this today.
But do you see someone in distress and you don’t care for him? Do you turn him away? If you turn away people who are in real need, your religion is worthless. James is particularly focusing on believers in distress, as does the NT. Look at James 2:15-16 where James focuses on other believers…
James 2:15–16 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” We should care for other believers in Christ.
1 Timothy 5:3 speaking to the church …. “Honor widows who are truly in need.”
Acts 6:1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
The church needed to care for its widows and so they organized and did it better.
TRANS: But what is our responsibility toward them? To visit them…
To visit those in need doesn’t mean to stop by and chat. No, to visit means to look after, and to care for.
This is same word in
Matthew 25:35–40 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited [same word] Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see [see you like that] 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
1 John 3:17–18 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
Spurgeon and Mueller both ran orphanages. Is there nothing for us? I’m not even sure how to apply this specifically, individually, or corporately as a church… We should pray: “how can we help Lord? What could we do?” Is there no one in our assembly that has needs? Do you know of anyway to find out needs? Do you know of anyone that you could choose to love and not expect anything in return?
The compassion of God that saves you is the compassion that will be in your heart if you’re saved. A regenerated heart seeks to meet needs; he doesn’t turn away people with real needs.
TRANS: Controlled tongue, a compassionate life, and now the third characteristic of worthwhile religion: keep yourself unstained by the world.
“Acceptable religion means you regularly keep yourself unstained by the world”
James 1:27 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Just like the power of God that saves will be the power of God that controls my tongue…Just like the compassion of God that saves will be in my heart toward others if I’m saved, so also the holiness of God will be in my life if I’m saved. I will have a life that’s habitually unstained by the world.
What do we mean unstained by this ‘world?’ What is the “world?”
The world is that spiritual system of organized rebellion against God. It is organized flesh, organized sin nature that seeks to rebel against God. It’s leader is Satan.
The world is hostile towards God, it is spiritual in nature, it is organized by Satan, and it will only last for a little while in comparison with eternity.
This world has value systems that are against God. The world will tell you to pursue your own pleasures apart from God. It’ll tell you to pursue getting ahead in this life instead of storing up treasures in heaven. It’ll tell you “to have it your way.”
ILL: For many years, Burger King has had as its slogan, “Have it Your Way.” And in 2014 they’ve changed it to the grammatically challenged “Be Your Way.” Are you going to be your way? Are you going to live your own way? Burger King said that the new motto is intended to remind people that “they can and should live how they want anytime.” What are they doing? They are capturing the spirit of the world and using it to sell hamburgers. Promoting the world’s spirit sells. “Yeah, I am going to live my way at anytime I want. No one can tell me what to do.”
That’s rebellion against God. No, God created you. He has all the rights over you. And He has pronounced you to be a sinner and He will judge you by the Judge He has appointed, Jesus Christ. And He’s proven that He is the judge because He has raised Jesus from the dead.
Will you submit to the judge? The eternal Judge died for your sin so you don’t have to! The price has been paid…will you not submit to Him and plead for forgiveness saying, “Father, be merciful to be, a sinner.”
You should call out to him because it’s only by the power of that eternal judge that you’ll be able to remain unstained from the world. James 4 you might just flip over here real quick…James 4 in verse 4…
James 4:4 4 You adulteresses, 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.
Don’t be on the wrong side; it’s fatal! Either you’re having it all your way or your having it God’s way. Don’t side with the world; don’t be staring down the wrong side of the barrel of the wrath of God. So what exactly are we talking about? Are we talking about movies? Music? Dress? No, look at verse one. James 4:1 1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
Verse two, you lust and don’t have, you commit murder; in other words, you are angry with your brother. You fight and quarrel… You ask God with wrong motives to spend things on your own pleasures. Verse four because of these things you have the pronouncement; you are adulteresses…Yikes…
We’re not talking about external things, but the heart. True religion is of the heart. It’s religious activity in the sight of God our Father, not before man. Do you do things to make others think you’re more righteous? Do you pretend to serve God all the while, really, you’re serving man and fearing man?
James gets down to your motives, your selfish praying, your anger toward others…if this is a habit, if this is what you’re known for, you are not unstained, you’ve been stained by the world. Are you saved?
ILL: We recently got a new concrete patio. And I was told that to keep it from getting stained with dirt, koolaid, or other thing, that we had to seal it. So, my wife and I got out our rollers and we rolled this sealing substance … you can see I know my technical descriptions of concrete…at least I’m not calling it cement…this time anyway … anyway, we sealed the concrete to keep it from getting stained. If it gets stained, it’s stained and there’s not much you can do about it.
Have you sealed your heart against the stains of this world? Is your home sealed; is your life sealed? Are your kids sealed from the polluting influences of the world?
Thankfully, if you are stained, there is something you can do about it. You can submit to God, draw near to Him, mourn over your sin, humble yourself in God’s presence.
So, acceptable religion in God’s sight isn’t just watching your external behavior, keeping away from bars, drinking, and drugs. How’s your speech? How’s your compassionate life? Are you serving others; do you meet real needs of people?
“Oh no … we’d never have that person over to our house; or no, we wouldn’t have that family over to our house…there so, …!” Or “Why would we serve doing that?” Do you regularly think like that?
Are you fighting with each other? Is this regular? Question: Then does God approve of your other religious activity? No. What about when I witness? No. What about when I sing… no. It’s all worthless. All you need to worry about it repenting. Don’t go on the rest of your life and have everything be worthless. Repent, change course, respond to God’s word, clean it up in your life, seek out others to serve them, remove anger and put on a heart of compassion.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 1.26-27
What convicted you? Was it your use of your tongue? Was it your lack of a compassionate life or your allegiance to the world? It’s easy for us to mock the forgeries of the world, like the Piltdown man. But does it grieve our own hearts when we ourselves fail to measure up to the life God has called us to?
Christ gave His life for us, that we might be alive to God. Are you alive to God? Does Christ’s sacrifice for you motivate you? Does the power of the resurrection really empower your heart today? Have you bowed to Him? Have you laid down your arms of rebellion against him and given your everything to Him? Ask Him, come to Him.
Only He can change you…can you come to him and say, “Without you Lord, I’m hopeless.” And can you say, “I want to make active changes in my life to better conform to this passage.” After having studied these verses, I know I want to make some changes.
What active changes do you need to make?
562 I gave my life for thee.