As a strong supporter of the military and a soldier in the Army, I have a strong view towards people who lie about serving in the military and fighting overseas. This is known as stolen valor, which is also a crime. Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 which makes it a crime to (1) fraudulently claim to having military service and (2) fraudulently claim to have received a valor award specified in the act with the intentions of gaining money, property, or some benefit. And yet for some reason, people continue to do this which upsets me.
But just as people lying about serving in the military upsets me, shouldn’t we, as Christians, get equally upset when people claim to be Christians but they’re really not? There is a passage in the bible told by James that very clearly explains the characteristics of pure and undefiled religion. In James 1:26-27 (ESV), it reads, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
I will be refering to this passage throughout this blog post because this passage very clearly shows the three characteristics of pure and undefiled religion. The first characteristic is to refuse self-deception and to bridle the tongue, then to show mercy and love to the oppressed, and the final characteristic is to remain unstained from the world. I hope you take this to heart.
Refuse Self-Deception and Bridle your Tongue
The first verse very clearly says the religion of those who don’t have control of their words and deceives their own heart is worthless. The verse uses the term “bridle his tongue” to give an illustration. A bridle is a tool used to control a horse. So in this case, James is saying that you must control what you say.
In Matthew 15:11 (ESV) it reads, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Jesus, a few verses after that, says the words you say come from the heart. That is why we as Christians must have a watch on what we say. We must continue believing in faith and loving God with all our hearts. When we do this, the words we speak will be in accordance with what God commands us to say.
Not only do we have to watch our words, but we must refuse self-deception. If we deceive our own hearts, than our religion is worthless. This is a tough topic for many people. Even the disciples faced doubt. There are a few words spoken by a father in the Bible that I often quote when facing doubt. When this father’s son was possessed by a spirit, he goes to Jesus for help. Jesus responds in Mark 9:23-24 (ESV), ‘All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!'”
We must realize that as humans, we are weak and will never be perfect. But we must try our hardest to strive to live as Jesus did. We will face many tribulations, and doubt is one of them for some people. But when we face the possibility of self-deceit, we must cry out to God for assurance. Just as it says in the hymn He Will Hold Me Fast:
When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast
We must realize that those who are truly the elect of God will not fall away because God will hold us fast. But with that comes with a price, of course; that price is to love God with all our hearts, soul, and mind. It is to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is to follow His commandments because we love Him.
Show Mercy and Love to the Oppressed
The next characteristic of a pure and undefiled religion is to show mercy and to love the oppressed. The second verse talks about visiting orphans and widows in their afflictions. These two groups of people were frequently used in the Old Testament as examples for mercy and love because of the particular state that they are in, sad as it may be. If you read my Called to Duty: Honor post (click here to read), you’ll remember that I wrote about compassion. If you read the Gospels, you can see a reappearing word: compassion. Jesus had compassion for people who were suffering, so he helped them. Just as He did that, so should we, regardless of who it is, but especially to the oppressed.
There is a story in Matthew 18:23-34 that speaks of a king who wanted to settle some debts that a servant owed him (we’ll call him Bob, I know but bare with me). Bob owed his master 10,000 talents. Because he could not pay it, he pleaded for his master to show mercy and to have patience. The master released him out of pity and forgave his debt. So when Bob went out, he realized he had a fellow servant (lets name him Bill, see you’re used to it) who owed him 100 denarii.
To explain things briefly, 10,000 talents can be roughly estimated to $6 billion, to illustrate the incredible amount he owed. However, 100 denarii can roughly be estimated to $12,000. Though still a lot of money, it doesn’t compare to Bob’s amount of debt (he should really lay off the credit cards). Getting back to the story, Bob seized Bill, began choking him, and ordered that he pay up. Bill begged for mercy, much similarly to how Bob begged his master for mercy, but Bob refused anyways. Bob put Bill in prison until he could pay him back the money.
When Bob’s and Bill’s fellow co-working servants saw what had happened, they reported it to the master. And so the Master summoned Bob. In verse 32-33 (ESV) he says, “‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” The master then threw Bob in prison until he could repay his debt.
We must have mercy on all people, but especially to the oppressed. People cried out to Jesus on so many occasions, “Have mercy on me!” Jesus, in turn, had compassion for those people. Just as he was merciful to them, so should we have to all we come to meet.
However, it isn’t just mercy that we need to have for people, but love as well. The two greatest commandments can be found in Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV), which are, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And one of my favorite passages, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV) explains what exactly love is which reads, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” What makes a pure, undefiled religion? The love of God; a kind of love we have for others that will never end and will always be good.
Remain Unstained from the World
The final characteristic of a pure and undefiled religion is to remain unstained from the world. But what exactly does that mean? Well when I think of stained, I think of something clean made dirty. So in this case, when we are stained, we are made dirty, and there are so many things in this world that could stain us, but we must remain unstained from the world. We must remain clean and pure.
John 15:19 (ESV) says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” If we were not Christians, the world would love us, with all of its evils and sins. However we are not of the world because we were chosen by Him who calls us. And because of that, the world hates us.
But it isn’t enough to just be unstained from time to time or when we feel like it. We must remain unstained from the world at all times, and sometimes that means we must distance ourselves from things or people of the world. If that is needed for us to stay clean, than so be it. No matter how hard it is, no matter whose feeling it hurts, and no mater what the situation is there couldn’t be anything more necessary for our Christian lives. We have to remain true in obedience.
But in order to clean ourselves from the outside, we must clean ourselves internally. As it says in Matthew 23:26 (ESV), “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” We have to look to our hearts when we want to change. We must want to change. We must want to be clean. We must spend time in pray. Only when we have a turn of heart can we fully change our ways.
So the three characteristics of a pure and undefiled heart is to (1) refuse self-deception and bridle your tongue, (2) show mercy and love to the oppressed, and (3) remain unstained from the world. All these are characteristics of Christianity, the true, pure, and undefiled religion. So when people claim to be Christians but accept their self-deception, can’t hold their tongue, refuse mercy and love, and are stained by the world… Doesn’t that make their religion worthless?
Just as Stolen Valor in regards to the military is punishable, those who likewise fraudulently pretend to be Christians will be punished by God Himself. That is why if you call yourself a Christian you must remain true to Him who called us. We must refuse self-deception and we must control our tongue. We must show mercy and love, especially to the oppressed. And we must remain clean and unstained from the evils of the world. May we all walk the walk and talk the talk of a Christian. May we all believe in the One and Only Truth.