One of the scariest things about faith for me is the incredible ability most of us have to deceive ourselves.
Occasionally I’ve been appalled at the behavior of someone who called himself a Christian and wondered how he could ever reconcile his behavior with his claim to follow Jesus. “What a hypocrite!”, I’ve self-righteously mumbled.
Then it hits me: Where are my blind spots? What sins am I committing but ignoring, or perhaps justifying? Maybe I don’t do what he did, but are mine any less serious?
James helps by pointing out one very real possibility.
Before we read it, answer a quick question: What’s the first thing you think about if you hear someone is religious?
For many of us it’s church attendance.
“Is he religious?” “Absolutely—he goes to church all the time.”
Or maybe it’s avoiding a certain sin.
“Is she religious?” “Yep—she never drinks a drop [or she’s saving herself for marriage or . . .].”
It’s interesting the one James picked (and didn’t pick).
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (James 1:26).
Never one to mince words, James comes right out and says it: If your religion hasn’t changed the way you talk, you’re a liar whose faith is useless.
But Lord, I’m at church every time they open the doors.
But God, I’ve never committed _____ (put one of those “bad” sins in the blank).
But Father, I’m a daily Bible reader.
I wonder if God might come back with something like this:
But have you been huddling up with other church folks and spreading gossip?
Have you been hypercritical of your spouse or kids or boss or fellow church members?
Have you been using your speech to discourage the people in your life?
This one hits me right in the gut . . . I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty good at justifying most seemingly harmless sins of speech.
As long as I’m coming to church and avoiding the big bad sins, I feel like my religion is on good ground.
Do James’ words convict you as well? —Chuck