Study 4 RELIGION: THE TRUE AND THE FALSE
THE LETTER OF JAMES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: James 1:26-27
The word ‘religion’ is used in one good sense in the New Testament – here in one of our key-verses. Nowhere in the Bible are we exhorted to preach religion, but always to preach Christ. Look up and compare Acts 8:5 and 8:35. Pure religion is the outworking of that which God first of all works in us. Everyone is religious, because all are born with a religious instinct, but to say that we are religious is not necessarily to say anything good about ourselves. Dictators have been known for their diabolical wickedness who have at the same time been religious; there are Satan-worshippers who practice vile methods of worship; and many people are engulfed in the blindness of dead, religious systems, which are totally false. Through a man’s religious instincts he may be degraded or elevated, for there are two kinds of religion – the true and the false; or, as James puts it, religion that is “worthless” (verse 26) or religion that is “pure and faultless” (verse 27). Let us study here the true and the false.
1. THREE MARKS OF FALSE RELIGION
- (1) False religion is hypocritical. Notice the force of the words “considers himself” in verse 26. Here is the mark of the hypocrite, and there were plenty of these in our Lord’s day (Matthew 6:5, 7, 8). A hypocrite is one who pretends to be something he is not. A hypocrite is one who tries to appear very pious and holy in the eyes of others, whereas he is just like other men – sinful, unregenerate, unchanged. His religion is an outward thing – look up the searching words of our Lord recorded in Matthew 15:8.
- (2) False religion is Self-deceiving. Verse 26 states that the man whose religion is false “deceives himself”. He does not deceive anyone else. Thousands of very religious people are self-deceived; they are regular in their attendance at church, but they know nothing of redemption through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7). The god of this age has blinded them (2 Corinthians 4:4). Many are gripped by false religion and have been turned aside by false cults. Others are good church-going people who profess to be Christians but who do not possess Christ.
- (3) False religion is worthless (verse 26). It is empty, useless, of no value (2 Timothy 3:5). There are many professing Christians who are like waxwork figures; they have all the appearance of being the real thing, but their religion is outward. It is like a coat that they put on at certain times, to impress, but it can be taken off just as easily as it can be put on. It is not really a part of them. There is no salvation in this false religion (Acts 4:12); no reconciliation (Romans 5:10); no pardon (Acts 13:38); no comfort (Psalm 86:17); and no hope when death comes (Ephesians 2:12).
2. THREE MARKS OF TRUE RELIGION
John Bunyan said, “The soul of religion is the practic part”, by which he meant that if a man is a real Christian he will live like a real Christian. He will show by his practice that he has true religion (verse 27). The three marks of true religion are:-
- (1) A controlled tongue. In verse 26 the writer contrasts the true and the false. Follow his argument: he says that one of the first evidences that we have true religion, that we really are born again and know the Lord as our Saviour, is that our tongues are under control. If we do not keep them on a tight rein, where is the evidence that we really do belong to the Lord, that our hearts have been cleansed and that our soul has been saved? Remember that if you are a gossip, if you constantly use unkind, careless, hurtful words, your religion is false and worthless (Psalm 141:3). Only by being born again and by allowing the Holy Spirit to control your tongue can you show forth the mark of true religion.
- (2) A compassionate heart. The words “look after” in verse 27 present us with the idea of ministry – compare Luke 1:78; Acts 10:38. How does our religion show itself to the world? (Matthew 9:36). How does it show itself to other Christians? (Ephesians 4:32). Notice this carefully: James is not saying that we are saved by good works; he is saying that if we are saved, if we have true religion, we shall do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). If we are true believers in our Lord Jesus Christ we shall have hearts that are filled with compassion: compassion which will be expressed in good works. For some other examples of this in James’ letter look up James 2:1-9; 2:14-17; 3:17-18; 4:11; 5:9; 5:16; 5:19-20.
- (3) A consecrated life. The last part of verse 27 tells us this. God’s will for us is that we should be set apart from all sin, from self, from Satan, from all that is contrary to His purpose for our lives, and that we should be devoted entirely to Him. What does it mean “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”? It means that everything we do has to be brought under this test: What does the Lord want me to do about this, and in this situation? What will glorify Him? What will help me to live a clean, wholesome, dedicated life? Read 2 Timothy 2:21.
What kind of religion is yours? What does God say about it? Is it false, or is it the true kind? As you conclude this study, look up Hebrews 4:13.