8. Evidences of True Saving Faith Pt. 2 (James 1:26-27)Related Media
If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 1:26-27 (NET)
What are evidences of true saving faith?
As mentioned previously, one of James’ major themes is genuine faith. The Jewish Christians James wrote to were being scattered because of persecution, and trials tend to show what is truly in someone’s heart. Some were accusing God of evil (Jam 1:13) and beginning to follow the world (4:4); others were fighting with one another and some had even murdered (Jam 4:1-2). No doubt, because of this, throughout the letter, he shines a light on what true faith looks like. He does that particularly in James 1:22-27, as he twice mentions the possibility of being deceived about one’s faith. In James 1:22, James says, “be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.” Then, he says something similar in 1:26, “If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile.”
In James 1:22-25, James described the reality of the church by way of illustration. He describes God’s Word as a mirror, which reveals aspects about ourselves. Two people look into the mirror of God’s Word; one studies himself in the mirror and simply walks away (v. 23-24). He is a forgetful hearer. And one studies himself more deeply and makes changes accordingly. This person is blessed by God. In James’ mirror illustration, the two hearers differed both in how they studied Scripture and their responses to it. The one who was truly born again “peers” into Scripture (v. 25), which is a stronger verb than “gazes” in the Greek (v. 23)—meaning to bend over and study something intently. He also “fixes his attention” on the mirror—he not only studied God’s Word but continued to study it. He also “lives it out,” obeying what God’s Word says (Jam 1:25). If we only listen to God’s Word and don’t study and obey it, we are deceived about our faith (v. 22). Unfortunately, there are many in the church that only listen to Scripture, and therefore are deceived.
James is following Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:21-23, Christ described how many who called Christ Lord and even served in the church were not truly born again. Christ would declare to them in the last days, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you” (paraphrase). Likewise, in the Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:36-43), Christ taught that the kingdom was full of weeds—planted by Satan—and wheat—planted by God. In this season of the kingdom, the church is full of true and false believers. Therefore, we must examine whether our faith is truly real (2 Cor 13:5).
Not only are tests given in James 1:22-25, but also in 1:26-27. In this study, we will consider three more evidences of true saving faith shared by James.
Big Question: What evidences of true saving faith can be found in James 1:26-27?
Those with True Faith Restrain Their Tongues
If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile.
In James 1:26, James challenges people who consider themselves “religious.” The Greek word for “religious” focuses on outward displays of religion1 such as Christian rituals like reading the Bible, praying, going to church, etc. It is possible to be like the Pharisees and have only outward displays of religion and yet not have any inward changes, which prove one’s new birth. James says that though one might attend church and small group, vote for the “right political party,” and use religious jargon like “evangelical” and “pro-life,” his faith might only be outward and not inward.
How can one discern the validity of their faith? The tongue is a tremendous litmus test for true salvation as it always reveals what’s in our hearts. In Matthew 15:18, Christ said: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart…” Likewise, James said, “If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile” (1:26).
When James uses the term “bridle” or “tight rein” (NIV), it pictures our tongues as powerful horses. Horses in the ancient world were used primarily for transportation and work. They were very useful and expensive. However, they were only useful if they were trained; otherwise, wild horses were dangerous. Likewise, our tongues can do tremendous evil if not controlled. In fact, our natural nature leads our tongues toward evil. Apart from God’s redeeming grace in salvation, our hearts are prone toward pride—leading our tongues to boast in ourselves, our race, or nation. Our hearts are prone toward anger—leading us to criticize those who don’t hold to the standards we expect or look the way we would like them to look. However, when we are born again and experience a heart change, our tongues, though not perfect, should demonstrate God’s grace over them. Our words should be more prone to give mercy instead of criticism, love instead of anger, edification instead of criticism, worship instead of idolatry. True salvation is demonstrated in this growing ability to control our tongues and use them for good, which is a reflection of a redeemed heart.
Proverbs 17:27 says, “The truly wise person restrains his words....” Being “wise” in the Old Testament does not refer to a person’s intellectual condition but to his spiritual condition. The wise fear and obey God, while the fool dishonors and disobeys God. Psalm 14:1 says, “Fools say to themselves, ‘There is no God.’ They sin and commit evil deeds; none of them does what is right.” In addition, Christ said the same thing to the Pharisees who were attacking him. Their evil words proved that their hearts were evil and that they were not truly born again. In Matthew 12:23-27, Christ said,
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is known by its fruit. Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury. I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
In the last days, each of us will be judged by our words. They will prove whether we are good or evil—born again or unregenerate. The regenerate restrain their words and aim to use them in a way to glorify God and build others up; while the unregenerate tend to build themselves up by their words and bring God and others down. James will revisit this topic in Chapter 3 as he argues that fresh water and saltwater can’t come from the same spring (v. 11-12). Words reflect the reality of our hearts and therefore our faith.
What do our words say about our faith? Are our words constantly filled with sexual innuendo, pride, greed, anger, or even racism? Or are they filled with worship, gentleness, love, and mercy?
Since James is describing those who think they are “religious,” he may have some specific types of evil language in mind. The religious often restrain their language to some extent—they are typically not known for cursing and swearing. They are not known for drunkenness, partying, or stealing. They tend to control some of the baser sins but fail at controlling inward sins like pride, anger, and lust. Only being born again can do that. Since the religious often control the baser sins and practice outward religion, they are extremely prone to pride, which comes out in how they use their tongues. They are prone to boasting in themselves and their religious performance. Like the Pharisees, they boast in their tithing, their religious position in the church, and their good works. But also, the religious struggle with judgmentalism (cf. the Pharisee and the tax collector, Lk 18:9-14). They criticize and mock others as a way to lift themselves up. The pharisaical spirit tends to tear down those who fail in the church and often aims its criticism at the leadership; they even tend to think they can lead better! Criticism, gossip, and judgmentalism are common to the outwardly religious—revealing the evil that is really in their hearts. We should beware if this marks our tongues because it reveals a serious heart problem.
What do our words say about our heart?
Application Question: Why are the outwardly religious so prone to boasting about themselves and criticizing and gossiping about others? How have you seen or experienced this? What aspects of speech do you struggle with most? How is God calling you to better control your tongue to edify both yourself and others?
Those with True Faith Serve Others (Especially the Needy)
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Orphans and widows were the neediest people in the ancient world. There were no welfare or insurance programs, and jobs for them were scarce. Since families took care of one another, to not have a family left a person vulnerable to poverty, abuse, and even trafficking. In a world where strength was admired and weakness despised, these people were shunned and neglected. However, since the Bible teaches that God made every person in his image (Gen 1:27) and that each person has great dignity, Christians were known for ministering to the outcasts of society. In fact, Christ taught when throwing a party, we should invite the poor and despised instead of the rich and popular because the poor cannot pay us back. If we do this, we’ll be rewarded in the coming kingdom (Lk 14:13-14). For these reasons, historically, Christians have shown great interest in the poor—both in ancient and modern times. Today, in many societies where Christianity has flourished, a good number of the hospitals, schools, orphanages, and shelters were founded by Christians and still bear Christian names.
Likewise, James said when Christians cared for the needy, it was actually a proof that they were born again—that God had changed their lives. In Scripture, God is called the father of the orphan and the defender of the widow (Ps 68:5-6), as he provides special care for them; therefore, those who have his nature inside of them will commonly do the same. For James, true faith was not just outward rituals like attending church, reading the Bible, and prayer; it included loving other people. Jesus taught the greatest commandments are loving God and others (Matt 22:37-40). Therefore, when born again, aspects of both of these should be present in our lives. In fact, as we grow in Christ, the more we should love God and others. This becomes demonstrated through service, especially in serving the vulnerable.
When James said to “care” or to “visit” (ESV) orphans and widows (Jam 1:27), this referred to more than just stopping by to say hello. The Greek word comes from the same root as “overseer” or “bishop”—one of the titles for pastors of a church.2 This means, as a form of love, we must care for the hurting in whatever ways are needed—financial, emotional, social, and spiritual. In fact, the word “misfortune” or “distress” used of these needy people literally means “pressure.”3 There are financial, emotional, relational, and social pressures, among other things, that we must attend to when caring for these people. Because of these factors, this ministry is often hard and discouraging. When caring for people who are hurting, there is a sense in which we are taking on their burdens—bearing some of their pain to provide relief for them (cf. Gal 6:2). This is a Christian duty and a proof of true salvation.
Christ taught the same thing in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46). In the parable, which describes the end times, Christ calls for the sheep to enter his kingdom because they had visited him in prison, clothed him when he was naked, and fed him when he was hungry. The sheep declared, “Lord, when did we do such things?” Christ replied, “When you did this to the least of these, you did it to me” (paraphrase). Their caring for those under distress and pressure was proof that they were born again. They weren’t saved by doing good works, but their good works proved their faith. Likewise, Christ said to the goats, who also called him “Lord,” to depart from him because they didn’t care for and serve the least among them (Matt 22:44).
In 1 John 3:17, John essentially said the same thing, “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?” John said caring for those in need proves that we have experienced God’s love—which represents his saving grace.
True faith serves those who are in need. If we are harsh, stingy, and uncaring, especially to those who are hurting, maybe God’s love has never entered us and changed us. Faith that is pure and undefiled, that God accepts, serves others.
Application Question: How should believers practically provide for those in need?
Pastor Bruce Goettsche, from Union Church in Illinois, gives great practical suggestions on how to care for others in his sermon on this passage. Believers can:
- give someone a ride to the doctor, court, work, etc.
- help someone with repairs they can’t afford or do themselves
- provide food for someone in need
- take the time to listen to someone who most people ignore
- stop to help a stranded motorist
- provide a job to someone in need
- tutor a child (or adult) who needs help
- stand up for someone who’s being gossiped about or bullied
- adopt a child who doesn’t have parents.4
Paradoxically, Scripture teaches that our God is a servant. Christ washed the feet of his disciples (John 13). He died for those who had no way to save themselves. As orphans, God adopted us into his family (Rom 8:15-16). In the coming kingdom, Luke 12:37 says Christ will put on the dress of a servant and serve those who have faithfully served him. It’s a phenomenal concept. Our God is a servant. Therefore, as believers grow to be more like God, they will naturally serve others, especially the needy. It’s a proof that they are children of God. Who is God calling us to serve in this season?
Application Question: Why is serving those in distress so difficult? Share an experience in doing this type of ministry. How is God calling you to grow in your service of others? Who would be the modern-day widows and orphans—representing the neediest of us all—in our society?
Those with True Faith Practice Holiness
Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James says religion that is pure and undefiled “keeps oneself unstained by the world” (v. 27). The Greek word “keep” is in the present tense and indicates a regular and continuous action.5 This means true believers will be known by fighting sin and aiming to be holy. This doesn’t mean they won’t stumble and fall. They will do this often. However, when they do, they will get back up and fight to be holy again. Proverbs 24:16 says the righteous fall down seven times and get back up.
John said it this way:
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
1 John 3:9-10 (ESV)
True faith changes a person’s relationship to sin. They cannot enjoy it as they used to. When they fall, they are convicted by the Holy Spirit and challenged to turn back to God (cf. 2 Cor 7:10). A lifestyle of living in sin and being unrepentant might prove one has never been born again (Eph 5:3-6). This is the problem with the self-deceived who will approach Christ in the last days as described at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Christ will say to them, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you” (Matt 7:23 paraphrase).
If our profession of faith has not changed our relationship with sin, our profession of faith probably has not changed our eternal destiny. The continual practice of those who truly know God is keeping themselves untainted from the world—not adopting the sinful worldviews of the culture, not enjoying the sinful entertainment, not celebrating the culture’s rebellion from God’s Word.
Again, John said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Our relationship to the world and its sinful culture will prove whether we have truly experienced God’s love or not. James will later say to be friends with the world is to be an enemy of God (James 4:4). There is no in-between. We must ask ourselves, “Are we loving and adopting the world and its antigod culture? Or are we, as a lifestyle, keeping ourselves unstained from the world?”
Certainly, believers will fall and make mistakes. James and John are talking about lifestyles—the patterns of true believers. Before Christ, we thought like the world, talked like the world, and lived like the world. Even our righteousness was filled with wrong motives to be seen by others or even to achieve merit with God. However, when born again, our pattern and pathway changed. We started to live for God. Along this path, we will repeatedly stumble but the pathway and direction are the same. We ultimately want to live for God and aim to do so. As we grow, we never stop stumbling but our stumbling becomes less as we grow in holiness. James is challenging these believers to consider their pathway and patterns. Were they keeping themselves untainted by the world, which is the pattern of true believers? We must ask ourselves the same.
Application Question: Why is a change in our relationship to sin an important evidence of true salvation? How is God calling for you to grow in holiness?
What are evidences of true saving faith as described in James 1:22-27?
- Those with True Faith Diligently Study God’s Word
- Those with True Faith Obey God’s Word
- Those with True Faith Restrain Their Tongues
- Those with True Faith Serve Others (Especially the Needy)
- Those with True Faith Practice Holiness
- Pray for forgiveness for our sins—not using our words to edify God and others, not serving the least of these, and not separating from the ungodly world culture.
- Pray for grace to use our words to worship God and edify others.
- Pray for the needy among us that God would provide for them and meet their needs and for opportunities to participate in ministering to them.
- Pray for God’s church to grow in holiness and to not adopt the patterns, practices, and views of the world.
- Pray for any in the church who are not truly saved to be convicted, truly repent, and be born again by God’s grace.
Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown
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1 Barclay, W. (2003). The Letters of James and Peter (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated, p. 70). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 89). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Hughes, R. K. (1991). James: faith that works (pp. 82–83). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life