Jesus is life // pure and undefiled religion

In John’s gospel we are shown over and over again, a very important truth…

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (1:4)

“I am the bread of life.” (6:35)

‘”Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (7:38)

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (10:10)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (14:6)


That’s big for us.

In a recent post, I asked some questions.

What if we’re coming at this all wrong. What if both sides are missing the point? What if Jesus did not come to abolish religion OR to establish true religion?

Jesus is life. Jesus brought life. And what if, in bringing life, He made religion null and void?

When these types of questions come up, we always turn here:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27 ESV)

It’s a very good place to start, as it is very obviously and specifically related to the topic.  The problem is, what is described in James 1 isn’t what we are usually talking about when we talk about religion.

I looked around and “religion” is defined differently in different dictionaries, but it usually has something to do with a system of beliefs and practices shared by a group of people.

I also looked at the Greek in James 1. The word in verse 27 that we translate as “religion” is in reference to external religious worship, usually consisting of ceremonies. What James tells us is that the purest form of external religious worship in God’s eyes is, not the ceremonies, but the helping and caring for the broken and weary, and remaining unblemished by the world.

When I stop and dwell on that, I see LIFE. First let’s look at the actions described – visiting orphans and widows in their affliction. That is life on life… one person, giving and sharing life with another. Second is keeping oneself unstained from the world. That can only truly happen when we are filled and flowing with the life of Christ. There’s no amount of striving or devotion, no matter how religious, that can make a person unstained. ONLY the life of Christ can do that! It reminds me of those verses in John and I think it would also be accurate to say that pure and undefiled religion is being a heart that flows rivers of living water!

When we talk about religion today, we are usually talking more about the dictionary definition… or just being DEVOTED to our Christian belief system… and I think that when we do that, we are missing the point of the LIFE we have in Christ.

Our “external religious worship” should be from an outflow of Christ in us, and us in Christ. It shouldn’t be because of a system or a tradition or a religion. It should come from HIS BEING, that we are a part of.

He told us himself that He came so that we may have LIFE, and Jesus is Life. When we talk about or live out a religion that is not focused on LIFE, we are missing HIM. It’s, sadly, a trap that is very easy to fall into and thus one that we must be very aware of.


5 thoughts on “Jesus is life // pure and undefiled religion

  1. You defined religion in James 1 by using a similar word hehehe that is funny. To be religious is to follow a religion ummm devoutly, right? So if I took the definitions that I think you are putting out here, you would be saying that religion from James 1 is to be understood as devoutly following an external system of beliefs and practices shared by a group of people for the purpose of worship. And this external system of beliefs and practices shared by a group of people for the purpose of worship is defined by James as helping and caring for the broken and weary, and remaining unblemished by the world.

    Now, I said before, “some people following religion that is pure and undefiled are wrong. hmmm does that go against that scripture? I don’t think it does. It says religion that is pure and undefiled before God not people.” After reading this blog it made me think about the last part of that verse and why I was in fact going against that scripture. Before I was paying too much attention to the first half and neglecting the keeping oneself unstained from the world part. If you look at the first part it would be easy, in my opinion, to see it as an institution (system of beliefs) separate from the person. However, I should know better than that. :) You’re right that it does have to do more with matters of the heart and I think it really is because of that one phrase. Many people do great things like care for orphans and widows all the time, but that is only half of the picture. Implicit in the phrase “keep oneself unstained from the world” is the notion that we have attained purity. The only way to be pure is to be cleansed by Christ. So although atheists can at times be very moral by following a system of beliefs that honor God in all but the most important way which is believing in him then we see that their religion is worthless. They are missing the purity of Christ and therefore remaining stained from the world. So, pure and undefiled religion begins with a pure and undefiled heart that only comes from Christ. We were dead and HE gave us life.

    “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

    Interesting blogs. Thanks for sharing and making me think hehe

    • I wasn’t trying to define religion in James 1. I was just expounding upon the implications of the word used there. So, your combining of the two definitions makes my head spin. The dictionary definition is what most people have in mind when speaking of religion, but I do not think it is what James 1 has in mind.

      I appreciate your evolving insights into verse 27… haha. :) And I LOVE Ephesians.

  2. I’m reading this after Isaac just played a new spoken word response to that youtube video you’re responding to. The whole discussion is really interesting and relevant.

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