I have a Bible app on my phone that everyday, at 4am (usually), gives me a notification containing a verse of the day. I don't know what the curation process is, but clearly there is one. Easter and Christmas always seem to have verses that tie in to said holiday. The rest of the year though, maybe the team at YouVersion throws darts to find what verse to use for that day. Probably not, but we can all hope, can't we.
Though, regardless of how it was chosen, today's verse stuck out to me.
'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 world.' (ESV)
This verse brings to light to me the simplicity of the Gospel and highlights how our human efforts can over-complicate things.
I've heard, and said, the phrase, "relationship over religion." This statement is usually used to condemn the ritualism and any sentiments of 'grace through works' found in the Church. While that is all well and good, I think the sentiment can sometimes go a little bit too far and is typically used to throw 'religion' out all together.
Wikipedia has a whole page on the definition of religion outlining various debates on the definition. However, for the sake of simplicity, I will give the Wordnik definition, as it was the first that I found: "The belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers, regarded as creating and governing the universe."
Before I get too far off track, let me get to my point and what I love about James 1:27. The word 'religion' involves the things we do for the God or god we worship. In the context of Christianity, James shows us that what God loves for us to do for Him is simply take care of those in need and stay separate from worldly things. There's no need for fancy clothes. No need to do certain things on certain days. He isn't exceptionally fond of specific rituals or rites. Singing praises and worship to Him isn't even the main thing He wants of us. Just help those who need it, and let your life show that there's something different about you.
Is our praise sweet to His ears? Absolutely! But again, it isn't the main thing that pleases Him, and even singing praise and worship isn't something we have to do. Don't twist things though. I see room for the enemy to sneak in and say that I'm saying, "We must visit widows and orphans to be saved." No, that's not what I'm saying at all. The only thing we have to do to be saved is repent and believe.
In fact, that is what makes James 1:27 and the Gospel so beautiful to me. James shows us what is pleasing to God, but what is pleasing isn't required to be saved from our sin! That is what makes Christianity so profound and why it's called the 'Good News.' WE DON'T HAVE TO PLEASE GOD TO BE SAVED.
It's the difference between have to and get to. As a follower of Christ who believes that the God of the Bible is God, why wouldn't I want to please Him in general and especially given that He's given me the gift of salvation? But it's not a requirement. That is why I find James 1:27 so profound! It shows me what I can do to please the God who gave His son for me, and in showing what I can do, shows me that I don't need to, and in fact can't do, anything to earn His salvation on my own.
Normally I don't like to quote just one verse and not provide full context. My plan was to include a large section of James 1, but I got on a roll and didn't want to disrupt things. So, I will just leave you with the rest of the passage to reflect and consider for yourself.
'Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 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 world.' (ESV)
Actually, just go read all of the book of James. It is probably my favorite book of the Bible (James and Ecclesiastes bounce between first and second). James is a quick read but densely packed with simple truth! (Also, little teaser, I may or may not have something in the works that, I think, will make reading the Bible a little easier and more enjoyable. Stay tuned!)
Don't over-complicate things by thinking you need to do things in order for God to save you. Simply rest in the fact that Jesus died for you and all that is required for Him to pay the price of your sin is for you to believe and accept His gift of salvation. Know that from there, if you seek to please God, what He finds pleasing is for you to, "visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."