The Right Way

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, March 3, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

I’ll never forget the first time I went to a concert in a large arena (or at least I think it was the first time, which means if there were any others I forgot them). In 1992, I went with a bunch of people from my church to see DC Talk on their “Free at Last” tour which came to Hersheypark Arena in Hershey, PA. If you’re too young to know who DC Talk was but you frequent the Christian music radio stations today, just imagine TobyMac plus the current lead singer of Newsboys plus the lead singer of Audio Adrenaline about five years ago when they recorded “Kings and Queens.” We didn’t have to imagine such a group because they became a reality over 30 years ago at Liberty University and instantly changed the landscape of Christian music with meaningful, Scripture-based lyrics to hip hop songs. At the time of the concert, I was just 11 years old. Because of DC Talk, my brother and I were allowed to listen to rap music for the first time.

I remember the concert because, to this day, I believe it is the only one I’ve been to where my parents were also in attendance. As younger children, my dad had taught us that rap music was wrong. I can’t blame him because the only rap music any of us were aware of at that point had pretty trashy and vulgar lyrics. My parents had no personal desire for DC Talk’s music, but they took us to the concert along with our church group to see what all the fuss was about. After the concert, my father agreed that even rap music can be used to glorify God. There was a time a few months later when he was even trying to convince his older brother (my uncle) of this fact, but it was to no avail as my uncle stuck to his “all-rap-music-is-wrong” judgment.

My parents, like most in their generation, were raised to believe that Christianity was more rules-focused than it really is. When they were taught something was wrong, even if that isn’t clear biblically, they didn’t question it. To their credit, my parents and most adults in the congregation where I grew up learned to accept that God can take anything that is “unclean," make it clean, and use it for his glory, just like Peter had to learn it in Acts 10:9-16. As my Christian journey continued to grow, my parents and many others helped me see that following Jesus is about an ongoing relationship with a living Savior and any rules he gives us are for OUR benefit and not for us to try earn what we cannot earn - assurance of eternal life.

At the end of James 1, the writer clearly sees that there are people in the early Church who are still trying to live by human rules and holding their brothers and sisters to those same standards rather than walking by grace. After talking about doing what the word says instead of only listening to it in the previous section, James then writes, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 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 1:26-27). The word in both verses that is translated as “religion," which is threskeia, is generally seen in a negative light in other places in the New Testament. Paul uses it in Acts 26:5 to describe the strict life he led as a Pharisee and abandoned when he met Jesus. Then, in a letter he wrote to the church in Colossae, the same Paul connects threskeia (translated in the NIV there as “self-imposed worship”) to worldly rules based on human teachings, regulations that have only an “appearance of wisdom," “false humility," and “harsh treatment of the body” (Colossians 2:20-23). He then says that, while these things might make people feel religious, they “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (v. 23). This is the idea that James has in mind as he addresses the problem of “religion."

We can infer from James’ words that some of the Jews who were counted among the earliest followers of Jesus had not let go of their previous views regarding religious rules. They held fast to these things likely because of what they were taught and how deeply those teachings had been engraved in them. So, rather than just call it out as fake religion, James connects it to how we can identify true religion that is acceptable in God’s eyes. Just like federal agents who learn to spot counterfeit money not by studying counterfeits but by knowing everything there is to know about the real thing, Christians all over the world can spot fake religion within their own lives or the lives’ of others by knowing that true God-honoring religion is to take care of orphans and widows and to avoid that which tries to pollute us from the world.

One unintended consequence of breaking down the walls of self-imposed religion that tells us the right way to do everything is that many churches have now become defined by their looseness, allowing and even condoning obviously sinful acts just so that they don’t appear too strict. James clearly didn’t support this view either. James says there IS such a thing as “the right way” to be religious, but that it has nothing to do with arbitrary rules based on human standards. The right way of religion has to do with loving, caring, and sacrificing for those of God’s image-bearers who are the most vulnerable. To verbally mistreat people and to ignore the desperate needs of orphans and widows while claiming to be a follower of Christ only deceives oneself. For the second time in this chapter, James reminds us that our own selves are the only ones we can deceive since God knows everything about us and others adhere to the “actions speak louder than words” criteria for judging us. In other words, people aren’t going to care what we say about God unless they can see evidence of His work in our lives.

The command to take care of orphans and widows echoes God’s command to Judah in Isaiah 1:16-17: “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take of the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." God told the people He wouldn’t even listen to their many prayers until they began to live according to the faith they had chosen. In the same way, James is reminding these new Christians who still held onto old traditions that they would not be accepted by God unless they were willing to do whatever it takes to care for those He loves. This is what it means to truly DO what the word says.

If you’ve been holding onto rules that are based solely on human standards rather than God’s word, maybe it’s time for a change. Look around and see that the world doesn’t need more arbitrary rules that don’t even come from God; it needs people who are willing to stand up for orphaned, abandoned, unwanted, and even unborn children and people who will “plead the case of the widow." Notice that James doesn’t say we should just write them checks. No, he says the only religion that God accepts is “to look after” these vulnerable and desperate individuals. Take some time this week to get to know a woman who lives alone and has no one around to help her. Make a call to get information on fostering or adopting children that are still waiting for a forever family. Volunteer at a pregnancy center and offer support to a scared pregnant mother who has no support from the baby’s father and is thinking about abortion. Then, you’ll be following God’s one and only “right way."

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