There are many religions in this world, most claiming to be “the True” religion. How can we determine what God’s true message is?
The apostle James states: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans (or fatherless) and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
There are two parts to this equation: a) looking after orphans and widows in their distress, and b) keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. It is a balancing act, on one hand being cognizant and open to helping those in need but on the other hand living a life that is pleasing to God. Both a person who does good works and another with great faith are to be admired. However, God says that good works should go hand in hand with belief and faith in Him. “But someone will say: ‘You have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.'” James 2:18
In the Old Testament, God was very clear that he wanted society to look after specific groups of people; the ministering priests, those who were oppressed, foreigners residing with his people, Israel, and the fatherless and the widows. (See Exodus 22:21-22, Deuteronomy 26:12-13)
God said the rights of these people should be upheld and justice be served. “Learn to do right: seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17 (See also Deuteronomy 27:19, Proverbs 31:8 and Isaiah 10:1-2)
Of God himself, King David wrote: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widow, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Psalm 68:5-6
To practice “true religion” and keep ourselves “unpolluted from the world”, we must be imitators of God’s character: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children… and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1
Jesus followed in his Father’s footsteps showing compassion and concern for the needy and the oppressed.
Jesus had compassion on a woman whose son had died. When he found out she was a widow, and that the young man was her only son, he brought him back to life and gave him back to his mother. (Luke 7:11-15)
He drew his apostles’ attention to a poor widow who put into the treasury all that she had and in so doing was more righteous than the rich people who gave from their abundance. (Mark 12:41-44)
Jesus comforted his disciples when he was to depart to his Father in heaven. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-21)
Let us be imitators of God and Jesus in practicing “true religion” by opening our hands and embracing the needy, but simultaneously pushing away the temptations of the world and living a life pleasing to God.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:22-27