Praying for genuine spiritual reformation in Nairobi
by preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27)
Precept upon precept, line upon line...
Isaiah 28:10, 13
Thursday, May 12, 2016
What is your Religion?
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
you examine yourself, are you religious or are you not? Many people don’t
consider themselves religious because there is a negative note about religion.
People understand religion to mean rituals. That is, the outward activities of
religion. This is the exact word James uses here – threskeia, meaning, the ritual act
of devotion, or liturgy. But we need to notice from these two verses that
the word has both negative and positive connotations. There are outward rituals
that could be of no use to anyone, yet there is such a thing as pure religion.
I speak, I know that many of you come to church regularly, you spend the Lord’s
day well, you fellowship with the brethren, you pray, you have your personal
devotions, you give and partake of the Lord’s Supper, and so on. Yet these same
acts of worship to God could very easily turn to be rituals. Done for one’s own
self-aggrandizement so that other people see and consider you as a devout, holy
or a pious person. But the opposite could be the truth. I pray that as we
consider these two verses, the Lord will help you to diagnose your heart
condition so that you will be able to distinguish the true and the false
religion and neither deceive yourself nor confuse people.
all know, acknowledge and live in a manner that identifies two types of
religions. For there are only two types of religions – the true and false
religions. There can’t be any confusion about the two. If you subscribe to a
false religion you know, if you subscribe to a true religion, you know. But I
want to make this easy for you.
1.There is a false religion
no one wants to subscribe to a false religion. But how do you know that your
religion is true/genuine or false? What are the characteristics of a false
religion? Unless you are able to identify and reject false religions, you may
be subscribing to a false religion for all you know! Therefore listen carefully
to the characteristics of false religion:
says, ‘If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart…’ This means that there is such a religion that is as
good as self-deception. It lacks reality. For what would you say of a person
who deceives his own heart? A self-deceived person is unrealistic. Such a
person then is only a hearer of the Word and not a doer of the Word. For we
have already found out that those who are hearers only deceive themselves
There is a lot of a ‘form of religion’ yet little of
the true power of true religion. Paul puts it like this, ‘having a form of religion, but denying its power’ (2 Tim. 3:5). It
is like the church in Sardis, that had a
reputation of being alive but you are dead! (Rev. 3:1). The form here means
that the name was there, the preaching was good, the attendance was good, the
giving was impressive, etc. outwardly everything was good but inside, there was
deception of the heart. Any religion that is defined by the outward activities
is a rotten religion; it is not Christianity at all because Christianity is a
religion of the heart. It begins with the regeneration of the heart and it
makes a new creation.Christianity is a true and
genuine religion, delivering souls from sins, and bringing them to heavenly
Tongues expose the falsity of religion. For they
reveal the state of the heart. In this James speaks as the Lord did – out of the abundance of the heart the mouth
speaks (Matt. 12:34). A new heart implanted by the Holy Spirit ought to
produce something of self-control. Something as powerful as new birth,
indwelling of the Spirit has to enable its owner to be able to brindle his
tongue. But person who has cast off restraint, or a person who has no ability
to restrain his own members, is not controlled by the Holy Spirit. And if
anyone is not controlled by the Spirit, it is because the Spirit does not dwell
in him and if the Spirit does not indwell him then he does not belong to Christ
– he is not saved.
The tongue needs to be bridled, just like the rest of the members of the body. You must
not yield your tongue as an instrument for unrighteousness, and especially
because the tongue is naturally inclined to be so wild. It is hard to tame the
tongue, in fact it is easier to tame a lion than to tame tongue!
James tells us here that bridling the tongue, that is
controlling and directing it to be an instrument of righteousness, is one of
the litmus tests of the true religion. For where the tongue is not controlled,
you will find lying, gossip, slander, malice, hateful speech, abusive speech
among other things, an indication that new life in Christ is lacking. Why is
the tongue so important a litmus test for religion? Because with the tongue sin
is so easily committed. Almost before we are conscious, a thought enters our
mind, and before long we extrapolate it to exaggeration or a lie. One of the
things that we learn from God is that there is a limit to speaking.
James closes the third symptom of a
false religion by saying that a religion that lacks in reality and restraint
will effectively lack in result for it is worthless.
The word translated worthless means ‘empty of results’, it is vain. To
understand it better, it is a word Paul and Barnabas used in Lystra when the
crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them as gods having healed a crippled man.
So Paul responded, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are
men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn
from these vain things to a living
God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. (Act 14:15).
The worship of idols is worthless for it produces no
results. What is idols?
The Word of God responds thus:
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he
pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have
mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not
hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do
not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them
become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the LORD! He
is their help and their shield. (Psalm 115:3-9)
False religion is worthless to
man. This is why the Lord in His word keeps on
showing the worthlessness of idols.
person who acts in these ways will get no spiritual benefit from that kind of
religion. There may be a lot of activity in it, but there will be no spiritual
profit out of it. Unless you apply the Word of God daily and consistently to
your life you would not be profited. Unless this shows itself in godly
discipline of training both the heart and the mind to follow Christ both
privately more than publicly, then it is a worthless religion to you.
False religion is worthless to
God. Do you think the Lord is amused by your coming
to church, hearing the Word, participating in the Lord’s Supper and all the
outward activities, when privately you enjoy sin? If your Christianity does not
acknowledge what the reformers called Coram
Deo – that is the fear of the Lord that acknowledges that we live in the
presence of the Lord, then it is worthy nothing before the Lord – it does not
please the Lord.
came a time when God spoke very strongly denouncing all the sacrifices offered
in Israel and said that He did not delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
instead He desired obedience:
And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight
in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold,
to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1Sa 15:22)
also Isaiah 1;10-15 as well.
is a true religion
now turns to the true religion that God
accepts by giving two illustrations of the kind of outward service that is
acceptable before God. He gave these two examples to illustrate the kind of
thing the Lord expects to see when your religion is real and true. These two
illustrations are not exhaustive or a definitive description of true religion. What
are the characteristics of true religion?
a)Pure and undefiled
there are outward religious activities that God accepts because they are coming
from a pure motive. They are not tinted with selfish ambitions or sin. The
words used generally to describe this religion are, pure and undefiled before God. This means that it is clean and
untainted or uncontaminated by any human defilement, rather it passes the
purity litmus test of God, since it is done in His presence, with His blessings!
these words, James is saying that this is a heart religion. It is not simply
outward to impress people, it is of the heart, impressing God. The primary
motive of true Christian religion is to please God who created and recreated us
at the cost of His Son. Christians acknowledge by their actions the fact that
God is near, seeing and hearing everything. He is either approving or accusing,
on the basis of His moral law. Unless we live as those in the presence of God,
we fail this test of true religion that is pure and undefiled.
the Lord said,
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before
other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from
your Father who is in heaven. (Mat 6:1)
sees genuine good works as being the outcome of a spiritual reality of the
heart. It is the same as saying that true faith is a living faith that shows
itself to be true by how it is helpful to God’s people. Where there is no heart
faith, there will be false religion, but where there is a true genuine heart
faith, it will produce genuine religion, that helps others.
puts it like this:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the
evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the
widow's cause. (Isa 1:16-17)
b)Practical and helpful
are people who are under the pressure of physical needs in the church. This is
not out of their laziness, but because of their circumstances. It could be that
they are sick, or orphaned or widowed or are aliens/foreigners who live in a
foreign country and have nothing, people living away from their own land, or
are unemployed and so unable to support themselves (although I do have serious
questions about the latter!). All these circumstances put people at terrible
positions where they are greatly disadvantaged. There are people who are needy
we think of how we can be helpful, please think of people in this church who
are needy. This assumes that you know them well enough. Calvary-love of Jesus
Christ is the model for a caring ministry in the church.
simply states that true religion will show itself in seeking to alleviate human
suffering. Most of the organizations on earth that deal with alleviation of
human suffering are Christian – talk about Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, World
Vision, Compassion Inc, etc. Many good hospitals were began by Christians, many
philanthropic centers are Christian. Most of the children’s homes, and
orphanages are Christian. But we are to offer even a closer caring ministry
especially among the brethren. Our mercy ministry must be closely guarded.
do you think the fatherhood of God manifests itself in the church? It is by
Christians taking responsibility of fathering the fatherless by providing for
their needs. Loving and caring for the needy, the sick, the aliens. We show
love for each other in Christian fellowship.
of the very best things we can do for ourselves when we are in trouble is to
use our trouble to encourage someone else, instead of remaining in despondency.
Let us not forget that there are people here who are hurting and aching at
heart and mind – the tragic death of Peter Kivati in our midst must wake us up
to this reality.
are to speak to one another, show we care and love. There are people going
through terrible mental anguish and pain – speak with them, encourage them. There
are people who are discouraged and feel unloved, show them the love of Christ.
Others feel lonely, without friends – be there for them as the friends sent
from the Lord, who is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. Others are
doubting, struggling with mortifying sin. Remind them of the victory we have in
just come to church to gain, come to give and so worship the Lord. Caring love
for the helpless is not an accidental or optional manifestation of the new
nature, but part of its essence (Alec Motyer).
be unstained from the world is to
maintain both personal integrity and moral purity. It is to reject worldly
standards and to live a life that honors God. If you subscribe to a true
religion, then you would keep yourself unstained from the world. We are living
in a world that is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). But we must
keep off it’s wicked influences and be the agents of its redemption.
world is in a sinful stupor, it appears to be orderly but it is only ordered in
sin and corruption. We can only be able to keep ourselves from the worldly
stains by the strength that the Lord gives us. No one has the power to keep of
the worldly influence unless aided by God.
the first thing that happens to a sinner who has been made a Christian by God,
is that his worldview is transformed, so that he embraces an
eternal-perspective by the help of the Holy Spirit from the Word of God. Is
this what has happened to you? It might be that there is suffering, but do you
face them as a saint? Do you face this world with an understanding that the
Lord is on your side and His Spirit is in you?
are we to deal with the worldly pressure? By being sanctified by the truth of
God (John 17:17). We are to take God’s Word seriously, not only to read but to
study, not only to memorize but to meditate, not to only to apply but to
implement. This is the way we are to receive the Word of God with meekness – to
do it. Unless the Word of God is absolutely central in our lives, we have no
hope of being holy. It is the Word of God that has the potent to disarm the
worldly influence. The Holy Spirit who gave it, gives it the power to disarm
the wicked worldly influence, and so we are to not only be hearers but also be
doers of the Word.
for God to give us strength to control our tongues
James is not requiring us to be mute, he is telling us that those who are truly
justified are truly sanctified. One who is sanctified by the Holy Spirit has
the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control.
Self-control involves among other things, controlling the tongue. He considers
the tongue like a horse that need a bridle. James is the only NT author who
employs the phrase. The phrase which is borrowed from the horse racing implies
both control and direction. So control and direct your tongue as one who is led
by the Spirit who does not gratify the desires of the flesh.
a caring ministry to the needy
of the saddest dimensions of our day is that Christians consume too much
information but do not produce as much spiritual evidence. They go to
conferences, watch sermons and are part of many meetings and conferences. Sometimes
it does appear that we are too busy to attend to the mercy needs of other
people. Our greatest problem in Nairobi is that people are too busy with their
Monday to Friday, 8-5 jobs that they basically have no time to invest in care
and encouragement of others. Put yourself in the shoes of the one who is
suffering and ask if you would be satisfied with hearing others saying that
they are busy. When you hear someone is sick please make haste to visit –
visiting does not necessary mean that you have to take them some presents or
money, it means that you are there for them. Even if you are too busy, can’t
you send a card or a text, or make a phone call? Show brotherly affection to
another… yet love each other as Christ loved you and gave Himself for us
(something that you can’t do!)
yourself unstained from the world. Do not be conformed to the patterns of this
world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind – you goal is to become
like your Father in heaven, to be like His Son, your Saviour Christ. We are
under the divine order to be holy, for our heavenly Father is a holy God
(1Peter 1:16). This holiness is learnt from God by His Word and prayer. It is
inculcated in the church where these two, the Word and prayer are held in a
high position. Holiness is taught by the Holy Spirit who indwells us and makes
us holy. Is this true of you? Personal holiness is seen in active love for the
needy, personal purity and a sincere relationship with God. May the Lord help