Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27 (NIV)
Through a collage of events and memories this week, I’ve been reminded of this verse from James’ letter to the church. It is a passage that has been formative to my faith and even directive at times.
If you’ve been around VLC for any length of time, you know that we are not about being religious. Rather, we focus on our relationship with God and people as a means of living the Christian life. In this passage, James uses the term “religion.” If we seek to live a life of devotion to God, with or without “religious” activities, we are engaged in a religious endeavor. But, let’s not get hung-up on that. What James is saying is that if we have chosen to live our lives in devotion to God, two things are necessary: a heart of charity and a life lived in God’s presence. Without God’s active presence in our lives our outward expressions of love will be hollow and powerless. The genius of the Gospel is that the love of God is revealed through people who love God. We can’t have one without the other. My prayer is that as we love God, he would open our eyes to see others who need his love and then step out in faith, loving them to the extent that we would want to be loved. Love that flows in this direction is resistant to the staining of the world, because it is infused with God’s presence. The staining of the world in this context of the passage is to give or love with a view to its benefits for us, or even to the point of taking advantage of others. In essence, James is saying, “It’s not about you!”