Holiness versus Religiousness

James 1:26-27 (ESV)
"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."

Being a religious person does not make one holy. This might sound contradictory to some, but it is a simple fact: There are plenty of religious people in the world who have never experienced a moment of holiness. So, what is the difference?

Holiness has to do with the little things in life—doing good deeds in secret and in silence. In our study verse above, James considers it the purest form of religion when we look after those who are in need of help (v. 27).

Quiet, unpretentious acts of kindness have a way of attacking our pride, our hunger for power and prestige, our desire for recognition and approval, our stubborn determination for feeling important. They train us in the practice of humility, which is the essence of godliness, i.e., holiness.

When James refers to being religious in v.26, he is referring to those caught in the trappings of worship: liturgy, ceremony, and ritual. James did not see these acts as true worship, but rather elaborate vestments that hinder true service towards mankind, acts that demonstrate charity and purity.

In today’s meaning, we see this as those who merely attend service on Sunday, but demonstrate no outward change the rest of the week. There is no life transformed, but rather these individuals possess a “Sunday-only” demeanor, a church-face if you will, but then quickly shed this fa├žade upon leaving the church grounds.

This is a religion that comes from prattling about the Word but not doing it. There is no imprint of God’s Word on their souls. These types of people are summed up perfectly in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

If you want to know which way you gravitate closer to—holiness or religious—ask yourself who do you focus your time on? Those who can offer you worldly advancement, the beautiful, those who can make things better for you or do you have a heart that is compassionate towards those who can offer you nothing in return; those who cannot elevate your own worldly status; or do not appear outwardly beautiful? Can we reach out to these people without recognition from man, but simply through faithful obedience to God?

We are called to be holy—set apart—for His purposes. During His earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated much compassion and commanded His disciples to do the same (Matthew 27:34-46).

Our salvation will never be secured by our works—James is not stating this. But what he is saying is that if you are truly a disciple of the Lord, you will demonstrate your good works to the least of the brethren and in doing so, walk the path God wants us to traverse.