This was part of my devotion reading this morning. Being the father of two adopted children I took a lot of comfort from this verse. It helped to affirm that I was right with God, that my “religion” was “pure and undefiled” because I took care of orphans.
As I read this passage today, however, I recognize that the last half of the verse is often left unsaid. In all the years I used this verse to justify myself or call others to action I only ever quoted the first half which dealt with orphans and widows. The command to keep oneself unstained from the world – to be holy – was somehow lost in the frenzy to do good deeds.
If it is true that the sort of religion God the Father accepts is one that looks after the “least of these” then it is equally true that the only religion God the Father accepts is one that takes seriously a call to holiness – to be set apart from the world. We should look, live, think, and act noticeably different from the world.
I confess it’s easier to do the first part. It’s easier to busy ourselves with doing good things for others – even adopting an orphan – than it is to divulge ourselves of the things of this world which leave us stained. It’s easier to mow my neighbors lawn than it is to turn off the T.V. It’s easier to visit someone in the hospital than it is to take inventory of the type of music I listen to and ask whether it glorifies God. It’s easier to volunteer to teach Sunday School than it is to set my alarm clock one hour earlier each day so I can get up to pray.
What about you? Is it easier for you to busy yourself with doing good things? Does the last half of James 1:27 get swept to the side? It seems to me that it’s so easy to get caught up in one side of this verse or the other. So many churches are so caught up in social activism that they look more like the United Way than they do the church of Jesus Christ. Then there are others who are so caught up in keeping themselves unstained from the world that they forget that Jesus ate with sinners, and calls us to do the same. Far too many pit social activism against personal holiness. The Christian must not do this.
How are you finding balance? Is your religion “pure and undefiled before God the Father” by displaying both social activism and personal holiness? Or is it more one than the other?