James 1:26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
As a teenager I was really close friends with kids who came from a conservative family that believed among other things that it was unbiblical for a woman to wear pants. While I didn’t share that belief (and still don’t) I do admire their commitment to purity and separation from the world. On a personal note I would rather side with those who want to stay as far away as possible from sin instead of those who get as close as possible to it.
Because of their convictions about women not wearing pants the daughters had to wear culottes (a form of baggy shorts) instead. While this did make them sort of stand out in a crowd none of my friends had a problem obeying their parents wishes.
Until they reached the age of a young adult that is
For some reason in College it seemed as if each one of the girls who had gone along with the conservative lifestyle suddenly decided to embrace a rebellious attitude (this was true with the young men as well). Sadly this is normal for many Christian families where the children go along with the beliefs of their parents, and don’t truly have convictions of their own. But the more I think about it, the clearer it is these children had a deeper problem.
They were gauging their spirituality by outward works instead of a heart relationship with God
James in 1:26 confronts those people who seem to be religious (do all the right things outwardly) and don’t control their tongue. In other words these are individuals who believe what’s on the inside (the heart) doesn’t really matter because God only cares about what’s on the outside.
In a way this is the mistake that my friends made and their families. Emphasis was rightly placed on being different from the world, however this focus took their eyes off an actual relationship with God, and this created a serious problem.
Understand what I call a relationship with God DOES NOT just refer to Salvation. Of course Salvation is part of this relationship, but the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in Sanctification or putting on Christ (Ephesians 4:17-24) is involved as well. This doesn’t mean we will completely become like Jesus on the earth, but will slowly become more like Him as we grow spiritually
The outer things (going to Church, reading the Bible, memorizing Scripture) are good of course because they strengthen that relationship with God. But when we use those things as the foundation of our confidence instead of a relationship with the Lord we run into serious problems.
I’ll never forget the night that God made this truth clear to me at a Wednesday evening youth service. My friends brother spoke from Romans 1:28-29
28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
He explained that Paul is writing here to Jewish unbelievers who felt that since they had the OT Law and were God’s chosen people, then following the law must be part of Salvation. This led to an attitude that believed Gentiles could never be saved unless they became Jewish converts, going as far as becoming circumcised.
Paul confronts this arrogance with the truth that real Jews had a circumcision (cutting away) that wasn’t physical, but spiritual. Paul is referring to the cutting away of our sin-nature and disobedience in the passage. As the lesson continued a light bulb went off in my head and I understood it wasn’t about the culottes (or all the other rules) but a relationship with God.
Now again that doesn’t mean we should just go out there and start living like the world! Instead we focus on having the right relationship with God in our hearts, and as that continues the outer works will flow out of the relationship. Now however instead of being the reasons God loves us, they will be parts of a testimony that points others to Christ.