Perhaps possible from what James has said so far, the application made of his teaching to arrive at incorrect understanding of what he means. Especially with regard to God’s law as rule of life, the tertius usus legis.
usus pedagogicus (teaching) – convicts of sin, discloses guilt
usus civilis – restrains evil, threatens consequences
usus normativus – rule of life
For although the Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, although they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God, there are two ways in which they still profit in the Law. For it is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge. Calvin, Inst., II.7.xii
Just in case anyone thinks God’s law as externally applied rule will produce religion satisfactory to God, think again. Even someone who “does” the Word (for the most part) but without right heart is only deceiving himself and perhaps others. James addressing the same problematic approach to piety as Isaiah in chapter 58 – living life in disconnected boxes. Matters of faith in one box, rest of life in another box; no connection between so that faith informs and directs practice.
True religion / piety / religious expression includes but is not limited to proper observance of one day in seven and the things commonly associated with corporate worship. Certain other things must be in evidence for individual to have solid ground on which to consider himself a “true Christian”. James gives three simple examples of evidence that God’s Word has truly taken root in person’s heart and is operative in their life. If God’s law is written on our heart, here’s how that will play out in daily life all 7 days.
Quick note in passing: neither law nor religion are “dirty words”, words offensive to God. Sin defined by John as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4); James tells us there is such a thing as pure reilgion.
A. absence of true religion v.26
begins with negative: if anyone has this self-image and this trait is NOT present, only kidding himself but not fooling others. If person claims to be Christian and views himself that way but has runaway tongue is deluded. James not referring to occasional idle word, rare unguarded expression; has in view the habitual ways and topics of communication – things person typically talks about, ways they talk about them.
Are things in routine conversation absent from Phil. 4:8 list of whatevers? Is speech seasoned with “backbiting, gossip, innuendo, lashing out, sarcasm, sneering, foul mouthing, slander, bitter denunciations, misrepresentation, half truths, defamation, [even] blatant lies” (Krabbendam)? James says that person’s religion is useless, futile, a waste of time and self-deceptive.
Sure sounds like James putting whole lot of stock in just one aspect of person’s life, reaching big conclusion from one piece of puzzle. If so, must also accuse Jesus of having wrong view of how human nature works. On three separate occasions, declared the principle that what is seen/heard on outside is accurate indicator of what’s on inside. Matt. 7:18; Matt. 12:34; Luke 6:45; Matt. 15:18 Gave practical example that good tree can’t bear rotten fruit, rotten tree can’t bear good fruit. Why is that? Because “the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart”.
What is heard from lips indicates character of the heart; converse of that is: what is written on the heart will find expression through lips. If God’s Word has been planted in the heart, has taken root and is producing fruit, that will be evident in nature of person’s speech. Absent from speech means absent from heart which means person has not been regenerated or else is in serious sin and need of immediate and profound repentance. Last thing they need to hear is “it’s OK, God understands, carnal Christians go to heaven, too”. Should be challenged on basis of what God’s Word plainly teaches to examine themselves, repent of sinful behavior, by God’s grace and strength live as befits a child of God.
B. presence of true religion v.27
If that constitutes false / deceptive religion, what demonstrates authentic religion, the sum total of how heart relationship with God is expressed 24/7. James makes it obvious immediately that religion pleasing to God is comprehensive – extends to all areas of life, what we do, because it is rooted in our hearts, who we are. False religion accompanies a deceived heart; true religion a true and sincere heart, before both God and men. In God’s estimation, two things will be present as evidence of religion that pleases him:
Orphans and widows have always been on God’s radar: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” (Psa. 68:5) Numerous examples (Ex. 22:22ff; Deut. 10:16-17; 14:29; 22:19; 24:17-22; Ps. 68:5; 146:7ff; Is. 1:17; Ezek. 22:7; Zech. 7:10; Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 5:3-16) of how God expects them to be treated. To care for orphans and widows is to follow in God’s footsteps, means he uses for their good. True, they’re included in v.2; they are to consider trials and suffering joy. But,… doesn’t relieve others of duty toward those in need.
So who are orphans and widows? Important to note Bible doesn’t specify how they came to be in those categories, whether they are “actual” or “technical” orphans / widows. Is absence of father/parents due to death, imprisonment, abandonment, state intervention? Is absence of husband due to death, imprisonment, abandonment, divorce? In today’s culture especially, are circumstances the result of military deployment? And, is it temporary or permanent situation? Biblical requirements don’t distinguish all the subcategories; we shouldn’t either when comes to caring for those “on the margins” who have largely moved into the mainstream of our culture.
Here it’s ones who have taking initiative to seek out and care for those who havenot, those suffering affliction. Begins first with members of immediate family – brothers and sisters, physical and spiritual – then working outward as God provides resources. Purpose is to work to relieve their suffering, be father to orphans and husband to widows, providing for their needs, whether spiritual or physical. Must happen as expression of the heart: heart devoted to and filled with love for God propels individual into service to God’s children. What breaks God’s heart, causes him to show compassion, should break our hearts and stimulate demonstration of our compassion.
We live in fallen world, surrounded by fallen people; must interact with them on daily basis. Nowhere does Bible endorse monastery life, in fact, the exact opposite. Jesus expects us to change world by presence in and interaction with it. But,… there’s supposed to be check-valve in plumbing between us and world; problem is in modern church the valves goes in wrong direction. Church has been stained by world, its thinking and its ways, rather than other way round.
To be unspotted/unstained means every aspect of life and being should be conformed to Christ not world’s ways. Think as Christ thinks (let this mind be in you, Phil. 2:5); act as Christ acted (Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 1 Pet. 2:21); desire what God desires, in all areas of life. Must be apparent to all who observe that we “march to the beat of a different drummer”, God.
Goal is not to become like the world so we can win the world; it is to be unlike the world so we can reach into the world and by God’s grace rescue lost sinners out of it. Given current trends, each day brings added opportunities to encounter those in need; must be alert to dangers of applying world’s solutions to their need, instead staying true to God’s methods and priorities.
Alertness is good but not enough, need Scotchgard to be stain resistant; best form of treatment goes along with manufacture of fabric, not simply sprayed on later. God’s original formula for stain protection is implanted and nurtured Word of God, rooted in the heart (The term “heart” stands for the “inner,” “inward,” “internal” man, the core of one’s being, one’s deepest self, one’s personhood, as the source that produces the outward, verifiable, practice. Krabbendam) and permeating the entire person. It goes without saying that Holy Spirit is one who implants Word, applies it, enlightens us to understand it, makes it effectual in our lives.
Individual pure religion is important, James addressed his letter to brothers and sisters. Corporate exercise and maintenance of pure religion also important. World is a big place with big needs; not possible for one individual short of Lord Jesus to “visit” all widows and orphans. Requires combined labors of worshiping community, modeling among brothers and sisters the love and principles and priorities received from their Father. May our gracious Heavenly Father continue to mold us into that sort of family, one that practices a “pure and undefiled religion before God the Father” that pleases him