Taking the Bible seriously will absolutely make you uncomfortable.
Not all of it, of course. I like the parts about Jesus giving me rest and the abundant life and preparing a beautiful mansion for me. All that sounds nice.
I don’t even mind the parts about being a good person, because being reasonably good isn’t that hard most of the time. But you don’t have to look far to see something considerably more difficult than that.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right when he wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” [In Bonhoeffer’s case, his statement was prophetic—he was martyred just before World War II ended.]
Most of us won’t be killed for our faith, but Jesus still calls us to die. He calls us to die to the easy path, the comfortable one, what he calls the “old self.”
In some ways, our religion can keep us from dying, because it offers us ways to practice faith without taking it seriously. We all know it’s possible for our relationship to God to consist of not much more than filling a church pew once or twice a week.
And because it’s “religious,” it gives people a false sense of security. “Of course I’m religious,” they say. “I’m a church member, and I go to church all the time.”
But that’s a far cry from discipleship.
As he so often does, James gets our attention by bluntly telling us that pure religion involves something more substantial than the easy path.
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 1:27).
My sinful impulse encourages me to fall back on this line (maybe you’ve used this before as well): Well, I give money to the church, and the church sends a check to two different children’s homes.
I’m thankful many churches do that, but I’m skeptical of my attempts to care for the needy merely by writing a check.
Truth is, James is talking about orphans and widows, but not merely orphans and widows. He’s saying that pure religion causes us to look around us and find the people who need help. And help them.
It might be an orphan or widow, and God might be calling us to foster or adopt or reach out to a widow who’s struggling.
It might be someone who just divorced, a family whose child has cancer, a homeless man on the corner, or a single mom who’s unemployed.
It’ll probably include doing something inconvenient, something sacrificial, maybe even painful.
But when Jesus calls someone, he calls us to come and die.
Pure religion isn’t comfortable. —Chuck