Day 7 – The “Uselessness” of Piety

It is a mistake to look at James 1:22-27 without keeping it in the context of the rest of the chapter, and even including it in the rest of the book. The language used and the use of certain words match up ideas and draw the whole chapter together. Sure, it’s fine to study sections at a time, but it is not good to keep them separated.

Consider the important words found in James 1:22-27. Here is a short list of them:

  • doer
  • hearer (only)
  • deceiving
  • observe/look
  • forgets/forgetful
  • blessed
  • religious/religion
  • tongue
  • deceives
  • useless
  • visit
  • religious
  • keep unspotted

The first thing to notice is that there is a contrast between the doer and the person who hears and does not obey. Obviously that applies to people in the generic or obvious sense. People who “talk a good game” but do not act, they prove that they do not believe what they say. At least their belief is not strong enough to cause action.

But look at it in relationship with the rest of the chapter.

Consider the points I brought out in previous days.

James 1:1-12 relates to the mindset that is required for us to endure times of temptation and bring out the best of that situation. I show that James revealed 4 important ways to accomplish this. If you want to bring about joyous circumstances, you need to remember the value of the situation, choose to endure it, pray for wisdom, and be sure to rejoice in the things that are going to help you endure.

Then James 1:13-18 showed us the importance of taking personal responsibility for our sins and to understand where those sins come from: our own desires. Once we understand the source, we are then able to find the root cause of the sin in our lives, understand what choices we are making based on those desires, and find ways to act in a way that leads to righteousness instead of sin. It comes down to the choices that we make.

Because of those important choices, James 1:19-21 reminds us that this new information must come from God’s will, and we must learn to accept it when we hear it. Sometimes we don’t accept it and instead we just start talking instead of listening, or we might become angry and wrathful because we don’t want to hear the truth.

Wrath does nothing to help us build a life of faith. It does nothing to bring about the righteousness that God wants to produce in us. If we refuse to put aside sin and accept the word with meekness (the opposite of wrathful), we cannot hope to find the righteousness of God and find that joy our temptations are meant to lead us toward.

But sometimes wrath is not the reason we reject the word of God. Sometimes it is because we are all “talk” and not enough “listen”. James tells us in 1:22-27 that this kind of person can also expect not to achieve the goal of righteousness.

Here is a situation where a person tells everyone (including himself) that he is religious, but he does not understand. He might have put away wickedness, but he has not received “with meekness the implanted word” which is able to save his soul. His religion is useless because it did not lead him to righteousness.

When we face our challenges and temptations, we might find that replacing those temptations with religious activities is enough to keep us out of trouble. Instead of pornography, a man might develop a habit of prayer. He might surround himself with the service of worshiping God. But reverence and awe that does not lead us to creating a new life based on new information is worthless.

In the section of James 1:13-18, there were two paths that were outlined, not just one. The first path was the path of evil and wickedness–activities that lead to death. But there is implied there a second path, one based on righteous application of our desires. When we recognize that righteous path, and then begin to build a life in that path, the result is “the righteousness of God” and eternal life.

But the key is to build along that path of righteousness–not sit and do nothing when we finally overcome sin.

We are fooling ourselves if we think we can avoid intentional growth.

I’m not running down the idea of being pious a reverential. I believe strongly what Jesus said, that the Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jon 4:23-24). But being pious is not the same as building a life of faith.

An example used before was about sexual desire. It can be corrupted and lead us to conceive a plan or idea, and then we sin, and then we die. If we cut out that plan or idea, we stop ourselves from sin. But we have to replace it with something so that we can fulfill this desire in a godly fashion. So, if the need for sexual contact springs for a need for “connecting” with others emotionally, there are ways to fulfill that in religion. So we go to church and make friends. Our desire is fulfilled without committing sin. The problem with that is that this “religion” is all talk and no real, substantive action.

If I want to fulfill my need for connecting with others, I could first ask, “Why did God give me this need?” Didn’t God intend for that need to help us be better by fulfilling it in accordance with the new life He promised us? It ought to lead me to reach out to people who are in need, and the “worst cases” of need in the New Testament times were the widows and orphans.

Love should compel us to act in the best interest of others. There is nothing wrong with fellowship with saints who are not in need. We need that kind of activity for our own encouragement and growth. But if it is only about US then we are missing out on what the Bible and Christianity is all about. We’re all talk.

We need to learn to control our tongues and stop “talking the talk” and start “walking the walk”.

Christianity is not just about getting rid of sin. It is about adopting a whole new lifestyle of service and self-sacrifice. Anything else is just not worthwhile. It’s just talk.

I’ve got a lot to think about with this one. I’m glad that there was a reminder in this book for me to receive the word with meekness, because this one steps on my toes a bit. What about you?

Lord, please help us to respond to Your word with action and not just talk.

See you tomorrow!

~Jason

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