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What the Bible says about Pure and Undefiled Religion
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Amos 1:13-15

The people of Ammon are guilty of wanton cruelty against the helpless, the expectant mother, and the unborn child. God is the defender of the helpless and the weak (Psalm 68:5). Pure and undefiled religion is to show kindness, warmth, and generosity and to care for the widow and the orphan in their affliction (James 1:27).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)

James 1:27

The apostle presents Christian living as a two-pronged endeavor that we can perhaps simplify or summarize even more. The first is doing good works: visiting orphans and widows in their trouble. The second prong is to become holy or build righteous character in ourselves in cooperation with God.

We could also divide it into the practical and the spiritual sides of life. Obviously, when a person does good works, it is a practical application of what he has learned and put on as spiritual character.

Another way to look at it is to say that James divides it into the outward and the inward. Part of Christian living goes on inside an individual, and something—a work, an action—comes out of him as a result.

However we want to name this two-pronged approach, we must realize that neither of these prongs is sufficient alone, which is why James presents them together. It is "pure and undefiled religion" to have an inward and an outward aspect or a practical and a spiritual aspect.

The apostle John agrees with James in I John 3:16-19. Pure religion requires both of these elements:

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

He says that, if we do not manifest God's love by giving, helping, and caring for others, then we have not fulfilled anything. We cannot be sure that the love of God is actually in us if it is not coming out in some sort of physical work that we do, some act of love.

In this church's teaching, we tend to stress only one of these prongs. It is not that we do not talk about the other, but we tend to stress the inward, the spiritual, the holy, the righteous character part—the second prong that James shows in James 1:27. There is good, sound, solid, biblical reason for this. Basically, it is that the spiritual aspect is the more important of the two.

The inward, the spiritual, the holy, the righteous-character part of Christian living is the foundation—the wellspring, the fertile soil—out of which good works grow. One could go so far as to say that effective and truly good works cannot be done without godly character or a right relationship with God.

This means that we must have godly character before we can even begin to do good works properly! Without godliness, good works are simply common and rather empty, humanistic philanthropy.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
"If I Have Not Charity"

James 4:17

Sin is missing the mark of what God wants us to do. II Timothy 3:7 speaks of "always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." This verse is the negative way of phrasing the same concept. We have all the knowledge about what to do and how to live righteously, but if we fail to do it, to put it into practice, it is sin to us. It becomes a selfish pursuit of knowledge, and we are missing the reason that God gave it to us. The word sin is hamartia: missing the point, missing the mark. James 1:27 says, "Pure and undefiled religion . . . is . . . to visit orphans and widows in their troubles, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Notice what he puts first: Pure religion is helping those who are in need, showing your love to them, and then it is keeping oneself pure. Remember, the knowledge God gives us is predominantly and ultimately practical, useful, helpful, outgoing.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
It Takes a Church


 




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