“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. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
– James 1:26-27
ONE OF THE WORST MISTAKES a person could make would be to believe that a vain religion is the equivalent of true salvation. Sadly, much of our world has come to equate humanitarian aid and charitable services with “Christianity,” without regard to the condition of the heart of the individual. AND WHILE TRUE SALVATION IS INVARIABLY ACCOMPANIED BY PURE RELIGION, RELIGION IN AND OF ITSELF IS NOT AN INDICATOR OF SALVATION. In other words, it is possible to be very religious without being saved, but you may not be truly saved without being religious!
IN THE WORDS of the late Elder Carl Ballestero, religion is what man does for God, while salvation is what God does for man. Religion without salvation is empty and worthless (vain); true salvation, on the other hand, will, given time, produce pure religion. We understand from the teachings of James that faith without works is dead; using the same line of reasoning, we could safely say that the absence of “pure religion” indicates a lack of true salvation.
OBVIOUSLY, the presence of “works” in someone’s life does not guarantee that they possess faith; by the same token, being religious does not mean that someone is saved. But pure religion will only be found where true salvation is.
AND WHLE it doesn’t take any special spiritual assistance to “visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” it is impossible to “keep oneself unspotted from the world” without divine intervention and “things that accompany salvation.” Holiness (sanctification), like righteousness (justification) and cleanness (purification), is conferred upon the true believer (i.e., one who obeys the truth) during the conversion experience. What many have failed to realize is that the Holy Spirit is the “spirit of holiness!” WHEN WE RECEIVE THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST WE ARE EMPOWERED BY JESUS CHRIST TO BE HOLY.
IT IS THE HEIGHT OF FOLLY and absurdity to suggest that someone may receive the Holy Ghost without becoming holy. When we receive His Holy Spirit, we begin to travel upon the “highway of holiness.” Thereafter, through the preaching and teaching of the Word we are made partakers of His holiness, according to Hebrews 12:10. Additionally, the Bible teaches us that we each have individual responsibility in “perfecting holiness” (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1) and “pursuing holiness” (Hebrews 12:6–15). Indeed, Hebrews 12:14 makes it very clear that without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
IT BEHOOVES US, therefore, to make sure that our religion is PURE and not VAIN. Truly this is a time when many have a FORM OF GODLINESS but DENY THE POWER THEREOF. These are folks who have all the external appearances of true holiness but lack the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. They are spiritual imposters–claiming to be what they really are not. These are contemporary Pharisees.
CONVERSELY, there are many who claim to be Spirit-filled but who still look just like the world; their holiness is in their heart where only God can see it, they claim. Apparently they received “another spirit” than the HOLY SPIRIT that we received. For when we received the Spirit of Christ, we also received the MIND OF CHRIST, and thus we hate even the garment that is spotted by the flesh.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING as inward holiness that does not manifest itself in outward holiness. BE YE HOLY FOR I AM HOLY was not spoken with only the heart in mind. If Jesus rejected the Pharisees in His day who had cleaned the outside of the cup but left the inside dirty, He must also reject the modern-day religionists who claim to be clean on the inside but have no visible signs of separation from the world on the outside.
ISRAEL MARCHED for 40 years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. And when the day came for Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land, the Lord stopped everything at Gilgal and made them rid themselves of the “reproach of Egypt.” You see, a brand new generation had been born and raised in the wilderness, during which time Moses–THE LAW–had failed to enforce the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant–circumcision. And while the old faithless generation was dying off, the new generation was coming on the scene. But when they attempted to claim the promise of the covenant they were forced to subscribe to the provisions of and receive the seal of the covenant.
WE WOULD DO WELL to heed the admonition of this story. BE WE EVER SO ABLE, STRONG AND FULL OF FAITH TO CLAIM THE PROMISES OF GOD TO HIS CHILDREN, WE ARE NO LESS ACCOUNTABLE TO THE MESSAGE OF HOLINESS THAN WERE OUR FATHERS IN THEIR DAY, OR THE APOSTLES WERE IN THEIRS. It doesn’t matter how loud you shout or how high you jump or how great a move of God you have–you may even have many miracles performed while you are in your wilderness trek; but be assured of this one thing: GOD WILL NOT PERMIT ANYONE TO ENTER THE PROMISED LAND UNTIL THEY HAVE COMPLIED WITH ALL THE TERMS OF HIS COVENANT: Repentance, water baptism by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, the infilling of the Holy Ghost with the initial sign of speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance, and living a holy, separated life under the care and tutelage of a God-called and anointed shepherd.
TRUE SALVATION is always and forever accompanied by pure religion. Never let it be said that we let Holiness fall to the ground in our day. And when we worship the Lord–which is but another aspect of our religion, let it always be in the BEAUTY OF HOLINESS–holiness that begins in our hearts and works in us until it works its way out of us, and we have been completely clothed therewith.
Rev. Tim D. Cormier
Reprinted from the May, 2001 issue of the Apostolic Standard.
Edited and revised 14 October, 2010 by Tim D. Cormier.
(C) Copyright held by Tim D. Cormier. This document may not be reproduced in whole or in part, except for personal use, without the express written permission of the author.