He began with James 1:26, 27 which says:
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.He made the claim that in order for us to have "pure religion" we must embrace all three aspects that James outlines for us. He confessed that we "adoption people" typically center on the middle part, which is orphans. True religion has to incorporate all three:
1. Control the tongueHe made this powerful statement, “To the extent that you focus on one without the others, you lose the others.”
2. Care for orphans and widows
3. Being unstained from the world.
This led to a big point and a big question.
Big point = If the church is to be fully mobilized to care for orphans, the other two aspects of true religion must not be neglected or ignored.
Big question = How do you practice true religion without neglecting one or more of these aspects?
Dan presented the case that we have to see this verse in the wider biblical context to make this work. The wider biblical context is that of the Garden of Eden. This was our sanctuary and our temple. It was the place that God made his presence known. We were all "insiders". But then the Fall came and we were all of a sudden outsiders.
James was written with this back story in mind. It was written post Fall. We are outsiders. James always has an eye on the way things are on the outside. He has an eye on the way things ought to be. According to James, life on the outside is full of bitterness, jealousy, conflict, back biting, also filled with orphans and widows. It is dominated by worldliness as well.
How do we define worldliness? It is, “performance based living”. We wear robes to cover our fallenness. Sex, money, power, and vocational achievement are the usual suspects. We also put on religious robes. We are a people who will put on religious activity or social concern as a robe. This is our feeble attempt to cover our brokenness.
God wants our performance, but only as the fruit of faith in Jesus and an understanding of what Jesus has done.
Dan gave a great question to help diagnose our heart in reference to this. He asked: Where does your primary sense of God’s smile come from? Do you sense it most when you are caring for the orphan or when you are pursuing adoption? Does your primary sense of identity come from your involvement in orphan care? This is being stained by the world.
The solution to this problem is a persistent and consistent focus on the Gospel. Eph. 2 says that those on the outside have been brought near by the blood of Jesus. Jesus visited us in our affliction and was killed for us. The more we understand and focus on this, the more we will move out to do the same horizontally to those in need. We will act because of the grace we have received.
When we look to the gospel, we will have true religion.
The Gospel is the power of God to bridle the tongue, because it speaks good news to us.
The Gospel is the power of God to visit orphans and widows.
The Gospel is the power of God to free us from performance based religion that equates to being stained by the world.