Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:26-27
Religion vs. Spirituality
For a variety of reasons we have come to a place in our culture where there seems to be a divide between religion and spirituality. Religion carries a negative connotation while spirituality is very positive. Some of the division is well deserved and no thinking person who looks at human history can deny the atrocities committed in the name of religion. However, the above verses from the book of James reveal that at its inception Christianity was not about mindless rites but about thoughtful actions resulting in transformation.
James writes that those devoted to following Jesus watch what they say. The words we speak show the condition of our heart. I know of no example of bitter and combative speech coming out of Jesus’ mouth. He spoke often with forceful authority, but he did so with a love for God and people. James will go into more detail about our speech in chapter three, but we’ll save that conversation for a different post. Next, James says that true religion can be seen in caring for people in need. Orphans and widows represent people with something missing from their lives that ideally would be there. We are given opportunities daily to go and lend a hand to these kind of people. I know a group of firefighters who regularly mentor school kids. The most valuable thing they give to the kids is their time. Following Jesus means doing things for others that they need done if we are able. Finally James says that true religion is counter-cultural. We cannot follow Jesus and at the same time subscribe to all the values of the society in which we live. Little by little, over time we begin to think, speak and act more like Jesus. From the inside out we are changed into His image (Romans 8:29). If and when this does happen, we would probably call that person very spiritual; James would say he or she is religious, truly!