Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows (v.27).
As a pastor, I get interesting responses from people when they discover my vocation. Some will immediately apologize for the language they’ve used. Some offer a forced smile and then come up with an excuse to change the subject. One line I hear often is: “Well, I like Jesus, but I don’t like religion.”
I understand the sentiment. People are leery of the church and religion because they believe the church to be greedy or fear-mongering or unloving. And it’s true that believers in Jesus have in fact sometimes exhibited those things. We have too often not lived up to our name and followed the way of Jesus.
“Religion,” however, is the practice of faith (James 1:27). The church is the physical way God has given us to practice the way of God’s kingdom. The problem with saying we like Jesus but not the church is that Jesus loves the church. He said it’s something He will build (Matthew 16:18). In addition, Paul uses the imagery of the church as Jesus’ bride (Ephesians 5:22). If we love Him, then loving the church is part of the package deal.
When we say that we like God but not religion, what we sometimes mean is that we like our individual, internal notions of “faith,” but we don’t want to be committed to any actual narratives, practices, or communities of faith. We want the vague notion of God (one that easily bends to our whims), but we don’t want to commit ourselves to the difficult work of living in real relationships guided by truths to which we must obediently yield.
Concrete actions (like caring for orphans and widows) done within a concrete community (the church) is good religion. We need it, and it will honor God and bring us joy.
Read James 1:19 again. How does our religion become worthless? And why do you think this would make us foolish?
Where might you be called to commit more fully to a concrete community of faith? In what ways do you need to begin living out a concrete practice of faith?