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October 17, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”—James 1:27 (BSB)
Religion gets a bad rap, even amongst Christians. Whenever the word religion is used, it’s almost always negative. At church, you constantly hear that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. Many pastors and teachers have uttered the words, “You’re not joining a religion!” But what if we’re approaching this term with the skewed lens of overcorrection? What if religion isn’t the three-eyed monster or the tyrannical slave driver it’s constantly portrayed as?
In our verse today, James, the brother of Jesus, talks about religion, but instead of talking about how Christianity isn’t a religion, he tells us what pure, undefiled religion actually is. You see, the problem is religion has been defiled. It’s been smothered and stained in human selfishness, ambition, deceit, malice, idolatry, bigotry, in man’s lust for power, in self-righteousness, and in an overall misunderstanding of what true religion is.
At its heart, religion (Greek thréskeia) means “worship as expressed in action.” It’s faith at work; it’s internal devotion being made tangible through external living. Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship with Jesus that results in religion . . . the outpouring of our worship into work!
And the purest, most undefiled, truest, Christ-like form of worship worked out in our lives is to “to care for orphans and widows in their distress,” to look after, stand in the gap for, protect, defend, take care of, and provide for the most vulnerable and needy, the marginalized, the outcast, the weary and burdened, the forgotten, the “least of these.” The depth of our inward faith in Christ is evidenced by outwardly defending those who are distressed and downtrodden, the very people Jesus came for, the very people Jesus was always saving, healing, and helping.
The Greek meaning for care is a command to take an active, helpful presence in the lives of those who are hurting. James is telling us that our calling card as Christians is compassionate, intentional care for the vulnerable.
Our religion is to follow the example of Christ and step forward to actively relieve the suffering of those in need; of widows, of orphans—precious children possessing the image of God who are infinitely valuable and cherished by God. The miracle of pure religion is seen when a child finds a home, when we set aside selfishness in order to provide sustenance and security to the helpless. He has blessed us beyond measure. Our mission is one of mercy as His benefactors in this broken world.
Want to walk in the real religion of our Savior and Lord? Carry Christ’s redemption to a child with no home!
DIG: Read Isaiah 1:15-17 and write down the actions required to live out this mandate.
DISCOVER: Spend time praying about how you can care for the widows and orphans in your community. Ask God to show you practical steps you can take this week to help address this need.
DO: Purpose to show compassionate care to at least one person in your community who cannot repay you. How will you be a benefactor in God’s name?
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.