If pompous discord sowing is not pure religion (as we saw in our last post), what is the true “old time religion” supposed to look like?
Our natural tendency is to create our own definitions of purity—building longer and more impressive lists of rules every year. But if we want to please God, we must get our definition of pure religion from the Bible.
James 1:27 defines it plain and simple:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Pure religion is clean—free from every admixture of pretension. It is sincere and real to the core.
Our church is not perfect—by any stretch. We’re all sinners saved by grace, and we all fail. In fact, I’ve pastored Lancaster Baptist Church for over twenty-five years now, and I don’t foresee it ever becoming a perfect church. No church is.
But, while we are not a perfect church, I do want our church to be a genuine church. I pray that we will sincerely practice the pure religion of James 1:27.
How does God define pure religion?
It is compassionate
Someone who is living a pure life of spiritual growth demonstrates it by compassion toward others—specifically, toward the fatherless and the widows.
James 2:14 poses a convicting question: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?” In other words, what good is pompous faith in meeting the true needs of others? There are many who are quick to criticize—in person or online. But pure religion involves finding someone who no one else loves and bringing them to Christ.
I have no problem preaching against liberal compromise and condemning sin. But pure religion demands more. It requires being a real Christian who will get down in the trenches and compassionately minister to others in need.
In our church, ministries that allow us to do this include missions, bus routes, visiting our widows and caring for their needs, rest home ministries, and others. But these ministries require sacrifice, and they only touch lives when they are performed through compassionate hearts.
We need to spend a lot more energy doing what God has called us to do, rather than just talking about it—or talking about who isn’t.
But pure religion isn’t only about compassion. There is one other component that we cannot overlook.
It is consecrated
Pure religion is unspotted living. Again, it’s not lived by perfect people; but it is conducted in a way that is irreproachable and untarnished by the world. Someone with a pure heart for God will embrace consecrated Christian living.
Make no mistake about it: there is a vast difference between having a list of rules to impress others and gain favor with God, and developing a list of biblically based standards that are lived out of a life desiring to glorify God. The first breeds condemnation; the second encourages consecration.
If we attempt to engage in the compassion of pure religion while neglecting consecration, we set ourselves up for moral failure and public reproach to Christ. We must have both. And we must live both from a genuinely pure heart.
Only as we abide in Christ can we keep ourselves unspotted from the world. As we depend on His strength and grow in our relationship with Him, we will be fruitful and Christ-honoring in our consecration.
Romans 12:2 instructs, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” What a challenge! We live in a world that is relentless in pressuring Christians into its mold. Instead, God commands us to model transformed living with minds renewed in His Word.
Pure religion is not a matter of forms, church attendance, and ceremonies. It’s not pompous or contentious. It is a matter of a controlled tongue, sacrificial service, and a clean heart.
None of us will be perfect this side of Heaven. But we can be genuine. While some may “seem to be religious,” we can ask God for His power to exercise the compassion and consecration of “pure religion.”