“Pure & undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this; to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
– James 1:27
It’s a pretty popular and common Scripture. Many of us know it and quote it even. We use it to defend our missions-minded theology and to open discussion with modern day Pharisees. Yeah, we know it. But I’ve seen the first half of this verse quoted more so than the latter. We often quote it something like this; “Pure and undefiled religion is caring for the orphan and the widow and stuff.” And that’s where we stop. We don’t go further, we don’t acknowledge that second bit nor do we acknowledge how God chose to describe Himself in this particular instance.
I’m babbling I know. But listen. I was talking to God the other day, praying, asking Him to change a certain someone I’m in close relationship with, because, well… they hurt my feelings. Again. And I was frankly getting tired of it. I was wounded and that prayer that I shot up was done more in desperation and anger and a desire to just not hurt anymore instead of a genuine and pure motive on behalf of that person. That’s when Jesus, in His humor and kindness responded back with James 1:27.
Hello? Is this thing on? Lord. Change that person. Why do you wanna talk about orphans and widows right now? Sooo irrelevant. And again He responds. James 1:27.
So to open my Bible I go. And there I go. I dive into the mystery that is James 1:27. Widows, Orphans. See God. You’re. Not. Listening.
And then I see it.
… “and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
I’ve read it. A thousand times. But just then Rhema was breathed into my heart and I understood.
So many people use this portion of Scripture to defend and demand holy and set apart lifestyles. They will use this Scripture as argument that we are to stay away from the world. We are to stay away from the grime and the dirt that is all around us and that we are to live in a perpetual state of cleanliness by our works and our efforts.
But we know that’s not true. Our holiness is a gift from Christ founded on the finished work of the cross. I can’t work or effort my way into being unstained.
So then. What?
Keeping oneself unstained by the world refers to a heart posture. It refers to keeping an unoffendable heart in light of man’s brokenness and the fractured state of the world. Undefiled religion is finding sufficiency in only Christ while maintaining purity of heart in a broken world. It means that when life and relationships and interactions get messy and we feel rejected and broken and like we want to allow offense and anger and bitterness to take our fragile heart hostage, we anchor our hearts to the unshakable knowledge that God, our Father, is enough to satisfy. It allows us the freedom to be unstained by man’s brokenness, being in the arms of the perfect Father.
That’s what remaining unstained by the world means. The world can’t stain us with its death and decay, unless we allow it to. The finished work of the Cross says so. This isn’t about avoiding this movie or not singing that song (though, please. Don’t sing it). It’s so much bigger! It’s about our heart. It’s about reversing the stench of rejection from our heart and embracing the sweet smelling fragrance of the embrace of Daddy God’s arms.
In my ache for relief and in this unfounded prayer, I was still seeking to change the “world” (read: others, human frailty, and humanity) instead of asking Him to keep my heart unstained and pursuing the arms of my Father.
So. There it is. True religion. An unstained heart. Unstained (aspilos). Spotless. Free from censure (judgment, disapproval). Unsullied. Pure. A heart that knows and is sustained by knowing it is loved by a Perfect Father.