Although I am grateful for the convenience of chapters and verses that the scholars have added, it is obvious that they sometimes had their minds on other things when they threw them in. And throw them it appears they did, like sprinkling salt on a plateful of food. So what if a verse is divided in the middle of a sentence or a chapter in the middle of a thought? The “what” is this—you forget to check the entire context because your eyes tell your mind that it started and ended right there, not on the page before or after.
So we backed up into chapter 1 and found this: “If anyone thinks he is religious…” in verse 26. Another two verses back we found, “If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer…” verse 23, which directly connects to the whole point of chapter 2: “Faith without works is dead.” Chapter 2 itself begins with, “Show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So from all that we easily concluded that being a doer of the Word (1:23), being religious (1:26), and holding to the faith (2:1) were all synonymous, and that it was easy to tell if a person fit the bill.
Follow along with me. A person who merely thinks he is religious but in reality is not: does not bridle his tongue, 1:26; does not serve others, 1:27; lives a life of impurity, 1:27; does not love his neighbor as himself, 2:8; shows partiality, 2:9; does not show mercy, 2:13.
I am happy to point out that those celebrities who claim faith in the Lord hop from bed to bed, and carouse at every opportunity. Their language is foul and a criminal record of drugs, DUIs, and assaults follow them around like a noxious vapor trail.
But how about the rest of us, the ones who don’t have the paparazzi following us? Do we serve those in need or are we too busy? Do we love our neighbors, or only the friends we enjoy being with? Do we talk about “them,” whoever they might be in any conversation, as if they were somehow “other” than us because of their race, their nationality, their lifestyle, their politics, even the clothes they wear? If I do any of that am I any more “religious” than the Jesus-calling, promiscuous drunk I abhor?
This discussion also led us to another defining characteristic of a true faith. Look at those qualities again—someone who says the right thing at the right time, whose words are extremely important; someone who serves others; someone who is pure and holy; someone who loves as himself; someone who treats everyone the same, even the lowest of the low; someone who shows mercy—who does that best describe? Isn’t it the one we are supposed to have faith in, Jesus, and ultimately God?
Adoration equals imitation. If I am not trying to become like the one I have faith in, my faith is a sham. How can I claim to believe in a God who sends rain on the just and the unjust while holding back on my service to one I have deemed unworthy of it? How can I have faith in a merciful God and not forgive even the worst sin against me? How can I have faith in a God who is holy and pure and a Lord who remained sinless as the perfect example to me and make excuses for my own sins?
Do you think you are religious? Do your neighbors? Sometimes what we really are is a whole lot clearer to everyone else.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:22-25