In truth, it’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do. That’s the test. It’s not enough to sound religious, to say a bunch of holy things about God and stuff. It’s what you do that shows if you are spiritually alive.
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his 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)
At first glance it sounds like James is saying, “Hey, watch your language around here, buddy…” But really, he is warning people not to sound religious to impress others or maybe even God. People may be fooled by that, but God isn’t impressed with lofty tones of voice and holy vocabulary. He cares about what He sees us do. Don’t misunderstand: we can’t earn our way into God’s favor with good works. But when we have His Spirit alive within us, we will show it as we tend to help others in distress. Even those like widows and orphans who, in that day, didn’t count for much. “Being polluted by the world,” in this context, means caring more about my own reputation among the influential people than I do about someone else with real needs.
These two verses drag me across coals of regret. I wince to read about keeping a close rein on my tongue. But that’s why I need these verses. And why I need grace.