The Real Thing

Before Thanksgiving we were considering what James wrote in James 1:26. Look at verse 26 again…

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”  (James 1:26, ESV)

What does James mean by saying this?

The person who trusts in religious piety sooner or later will expose his faithlessness with his mouth, because he doesn’t have the inner power to bridle his tongue. Trusting in external things to please God and receive His blessing are deceptive and worthless.

John Calvin, who was often the victim of slander and misrepresentation, wrote:

When people shed their grosser sins, they are extremely vulnerable to contract this complaint. A man will steer clear of adultery, of stealing, of drunkenness, in fact he will be a shining light of outward religious observance—and yet will revel in destroying the character of others; under the pretext of zeal… but it is a lust for vilification. This explains… the bloated pharisaical pride that feeds indulgently on a general diet of smear and censure. (— John Calvin)

What James’ metaphor points to most is the uncontrolled slanderous tongue—carping, critical, and judgmental. The outwardly religious person characteristically avoids moral filth and lying, but falls easily to slander in his heart.

James is teaching us that if the tongue isn’t controlled by God, it is a reliable indicator that the heart isn’t either. Jesus taught the same truth during His earthly ministry.

In Matthew 12:34, Jesus told the self-righteous Pharisees, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks… For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” He’s saying your heart’s on display in the words that you say.

Religion that doesn’t transform the heart, and thereby the tongue, is totally worthless in God’s sight. So what does the “real deal” look like? Look at verse 27 which says…

“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.” The principle in verse 27 could be stated like this… 

The pure and undefiled kernel of true religion manifests outward and inward devotion to God (27).

Katharos (pure) and amiantos (undefiled) are synonyms. The first word emphasizes cleanliness; while the second denotes freedom from contamination.

This is unalloyed religion without the intermingling of prideful self-righteousness or condescending superiority over others who don’t subscribe to your private habits or practices. It has to do with personally helping those who can’t pay you back.

Now wait a minute! I thought he was talking about the tongue. James went from talking about the tongue and religion to suddenly talking about visiting widows and orphans. What’s the connection?

The connection is this: the trial of bridling our tongue is like the trial of inward and outward devotion to God as expressed by our attitudes toward others.

The same reason we can’t perfectly control our tongue by our own power is why we can’t keep our selves perfectly unspotted from the world around us. All of us are going to be tempted in more or less the same ways.

To state it positively, the same spiritual power that enables a person to control their tongue will also enable them to remain unspotted from the world. The manifestation that we have such power is demonstrated by ministering physically and spiritually to those who can’t reciprocate in any way, namely widows and orphans.

James is teaching us that the same man or woman who controls their tongue is also willing to set aside their own preferences and go out of their way to help someone who can’t help them back—just because it will honor God.

James says: “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.”

In using these two words: pure and undefiled, James isn’t talking about what feels right to us, or of what looks right to the world; he’s talking about what is right in the sight of our God and Father. 

If we think of religion in purely altruistic terms, whatever true religion is, it must be that which is right in the sight of our God and Father. If it isn’t right before God, then it’s useless… like a worthless husk. The husk may resemble the kernel, but it’s hollow.

The religion that honors God is Christ-centered, not man-centered. It is established by faith and demonstrated by works. And it is internal before it is external.

May we strive together for that which is pure and undefiled in the sight of God; the genuine article and not some fake substitute.

With joy in His goodness,
Pastor Kevin

A Thankful Heart

At this time of year it’s natural to think about the virtue of giving thanks to God. On the surface, it sounds so easy.

Perhaps we think of Thanksgiving as the most “tame” and harmless of all holidays with little at stake (except perhaps that of overeating!).

But Oh, how mistaken we would be!

As Christians, the foundation of what we believe every day of the year — in sickness and in health — in good times and in bad — comes to the surface at Thanksgiving.

I am convinced that our circumstances have almost nothing to do with our ability or inability to give thanks to God.

Some of the most joyful, gracious, and thankful Christians I know happen to live with chronic illness and pains and losses that would stagger most people. Their ability to give thanks every single day has nothing to do with their circumstances or their comfort.

On the other hand, I also know people with pains and illnesses who feel angry toward God. They talk as if God has unfairly dealt them an undue measure of pain and sorrow in this life. They spend their time complaining and grumbling with no thanksgiving.

So I am convinced that our circumstances have little or nothing to do with our ability or inability to give thanks to God. Rather, our theological perspective on our circumstances has everything to do with whether we are thankful to God with joy in His goodness… or not.  

If we truly believe that as fallen creatures living in a fallen creation that disease and death should be the exception and not the rule, we are going to be sadly disappointed. Jesus even told us, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Ever since the fall of humanity into sin and corruption “the whole creation groans” (Romans 8:22).

“And we ourselves, who already have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

Now there is a way of complaining to God that exists within the realm and jurisdiction of faith. But there is a sinister complaining about God that exists only in the realm and neighborhood of unbelief.

For insights into this from the life of Job, read this excellent article by Vivian Hyatt: ( 

If I see my chronic illness and sickness and brokenness in this life as an exception that is unfair, my heart will become increasingly bitter and thankless over time.

But if I understand at the outset that in this life of sin and disease, we are all going to eventually have pains and losses and brokenness and blindness and cancers and griefs and death until we get home, then I can stand on the promise of Romans 8:28 and in my broken heart through tears write “GOOD” over every disease and loss.

Understand, I don’t want these things to happen to me any more than you want them to happen to you. We would never choose to suffer if we could avoid it and still grow in sanctification and still be conformed more and more into the image of Christ. But Jesus is producing something in us through these afflictions that comfort could never produce.

Knowing that God is sovereign over every good and bad thing that enters my life prepares me to take heart in the goodness of His purpose in my heartbreak and illness and pain until He brings me home to be with Himself.

In this way, what I believe from Scripture about God’s purpose in my hurts and the evils I may suffer in this life allows me to trust Him in the darkness until He finally brings me into the light.

Although I don’t like to publicize my own frailties, it sometimes helps people to understand my context when I mention the perspective from which I write and preach. Otherwise, you might think of me what Shakespeare said of Mercutio: “He jests at scars who never felt a wound!” Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have lived daily with chronic illness since 1978. I have Type 1 diabetes and many of the associated issues that go along with it. Because my illness is hidden, it is easily forgotten and ignored by most people, except me and my family. They witness my trials up close and know the battles I keep concealed from others.

In addition, I also endure the same viruses and plagues and griefs that sweep through our community just like everybody else.  So I am united with you in physical afflictions, both seen and unseen. I write with this in mind.

Understanding our personal struggle enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. We must be compassionate toward the hurting as Jesus taught us when He rebuked the religious leaders for their lack of compassion on those who are afflicted physically (Luke 13:10-17).

God is also glorified by the tears of His faith-filled people when their hearts and bodies are broken with grief and pain in this life. In this world, there will be pains and tears of suffering. But in His presence there is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11)!

That’s why Thanksgiving is such a profound mark of faith in the presence of illness and disability… and of disease and death. Our ability to give thanks to God has almost nothing to do with our circumstances; it has everything to do with our theological perspective on our circumstances.

This is the triumph of faith in a fallen world!

With joy in our Savior,
Pastor Kevin


True Christianity

 True Christianity is not merely affiliating with a certain church or denomination. It’s really about what God has done in your heart through faith in Jesus Christ.

James talks about “pure religion” in James 1:26-27. Belief shows itself in action.

True religion is a matter of the heart toward God, not a rigorous adherence to external rules and codes and traditions. Being truly righteous without pride is winsome; it attracts other people. But arrogant legalism that condemns and confronts at every opportunity to aggrandize one’s self, is an abomination in the sight of God.

Spurgeon said: “If your religion doesn’t make you holy it will damn you. It is simply pageantry in which to go to hell.” In that sense, external religion is like an empty husk. It may have an appearance of godliness on the outside, but it’s hollow on the inside.

The word ‘husk’ is defined as “an empty shell; a remnant.” But living faith in Christ is the true kernel that alone can satisfy the empty heart. A kernel is defined as “The central or essential part of something.”

The husk of religion may resemble the true kernel of Christianity at certain points, but unlike a Spirit-filled heart set aflame with a passion for the supremacy of Christ, external, self-righteous religion is empty at the core.

In James 1:26-27, he’s talking about the difference between worthless religion and true religion (which is a life of joyful obedience to God). You’ll notice that he uses the word “religious” in the positive sense of one who is devoted to God.

And instead of being theoretical, James remains very practical. It all boils down to a unity between the inner and the outer man in submission to God. Let’s look at these two verses in James, 1:26-27.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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]

These two verses describe two different types of relgion. One is true, one is false.

James is assuming that God-centered religion in its most altruistic form can be a good thing, but only under God’s dominion.  

The worthless husk of external religion manifests a lack of self-control and a deceived heart (1:26).

That’s what verse 26 is all about. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”  

 In our modern usage we would say, “that person’s religion is a joke.”  

Without personal holiness exhibited by self-control, especially control of the tongue, religious conformity is just a worthless husk. External acts and deeds may resemble the true kernel of life-changing Christianity, but that resemblance is only superficial.  

In verse 26, James addresses the whole church in his audience: “If anyone thinks…” The Bible is open about the fact that many of the people who associate with the visible church are not really devoted to Jesus Christ. 

They may be devoted to religion or a tradition or a denomination or a system of theology and nothing more. You can do all of that and still not know Jesus Christ. 

For some, church is a social outlet. For others, it’s a way to network and market yourself. For others, it’s a family tradition. But none of this is about Jesus.  

There are many people who “think they are religious” and indeed they may be externally religious.

The problem this religious person has, according to James, is that he “does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart.”  

In the Hebrew mindset, to deceive your heart is to be morally wrong and not just intellectually wrong. Worse than mental deception is heart deception.  

This self-deceit is manifested in the inability to bridle the tongue. They talk and talk and talk when their greatest need is to be quiet and listen. The more they talk, the more deceived they become.  

So what’s the big deal about bridling one’s tongue? What does that have to do with religion? Well James says a lot about the tongue in this letter. The tongue refers to our speech in general… the words that come out of our mouth.

To control your tongue is really to have a heart controlled by God’s Spirit under any circumstances. The heart is the foundation of the tongue. The first 12 verses of chapter three are all about the natural difficulty of controlling the tongue.

One of the reasons this is important is because controlling our tongue is an indicator of self-control in general. The tongue is a little microcosm of your ability to discipline every other part of your life.

Where the tongue is critical, divisive, self-righteous, or angry – James indicates that there is usually great sin hidden in that person’s heart.

When I go to the doctor for a check-up, my doctor is always wanting me to have my eyes examined by an ophthalmologist. The reason for this is that the circulatory health of the eyes is an early indicator of the circulatory system of the whole body. 

It’s a microcosm. The eyes are the first place where problems usually show up. If the eyes are good, then the rule of thumb is that the rest of the body is probably good too.

James applies this same concept to the tongue. If the tongue is under control, then the heart is probably under the restraint of God’s Spirit as well.

When your tongue is bridled, you’re revealing that the strongest impulses of the human nature have been mastered by God’s Spirit.

But the tongue is extremely difficult to control. It’s the easiest place for sin to occur.

It’s been estimated that the average person will speak about 18-thousand words in a day; that’s enough for a fifty-four-page book every day. 

In a year that amounts to sixty-six 800-page volumes! Many people, of course, speak much more than average. Up to one-fifth of the average person’s entire life is spent talking. James and Jesus both say that our mouths display our hearts.

We need to set a guard over our thoughts and words as Christians.

Guarding with you,
Pastor Kevin