Alfred Place Baptist Church

1:26-27 What Is Real Religion?

James 1:26-27 “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his 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.”

Do you consider yourself to be religious ? The story is told of the evangelical Bishop Taylor Smith having his hair cut and trying to talk to the barber about more important matters, but the barber was very talkative and the bishop couldn’t get a word in edgeways. Finally the bishop said to him, “Do you consider yourself religious ?” “Yes, I do,” said the barber, “I always try to do my best in life.” When the barber had finished cutting his hair the bishop paid him, adding, “You yourself could do with a haircut.” “Yes I could,” said the barber, “but I am so busy I haven’t had time.” “Sit down,” Bishop Taylor Smith said, “I’ll cut your hair for you.” “You couldn’t cut my hair,” said the barber. “Yes, I could,” replied the bishop, “I’ll do my best.” “Thank you, but your best isn’t good enough for me,” said the man. “Yes, you’re right,” agreed Taylor Smith, “and your best isn’t good enough for God.”

According to these words of the New Testament not all religion is acceptable to God. Such sentiments are a great shock to those people whose only criterion for measuring the value of a religion is that somebody believes it. The band, Manic Street Preachers say, “I’ll tell you my truth, then you tell me yours.” They seem to suggest that all views have equal validity. But God speaking here in this text says that a certain man’s religion is invalid, in fact it is worth nothing at all. If that person is happy because he has ‘his truth’ he is deceiving himself – just like the barber who thought he was doing his best. No one, except the Lord Jesus Christ, has ever done his best, just as it was only the Son of God who could claim, “I am the truth.” Jesus didn’t say to the Pharisees, “Now you tell me your truth.”

James is writing here to people who have come into the Christian orbit, many of them disillusioned with their Jewish background. They had picked up some Christian attitudes about the great prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, and so they were coming to services on the Lord’s Day for teaching and breaking bread. They were singing hymns and praying to God in the name of Jesus. In other words they were just like ourselves, thinking they were religious people. We don’t spend Sundays in the pub or watching TV but we are in chuch because we consider ourselves to be religious. Yet there was something deeply flawed about the religion of some of those people, and they had fallen victim to self-deception. The question facing us is, are we just like them. Simo Ralevic, who preaches in Serbo-Croat to his congregation in Pe=E7 in former Yugoslavia, examines this deluded man of verse twenty-six: “His knowledge of God and all his outward religious observances are self-deception. That sort of religion is useless, empty; it is not substantial, saving religion. It is but straw. It is dead. It is a religion akin to the devil’s. No matter what this person thinks of himself, no matter what others think of him, he has a false religion. It is not I who say this, it is God through the mouth of James who says, ‘this man’s religion is vain” (The Tongue – Our Measure, Banner of Truth, 1987, p.12).

Then, what is true religion ? Is there a more important question in the whole world ? Will you ever be confronted with a more vital issue than this, what is the religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless. I am going to tell you. You went to church one Sunday and the preacher explained to you what true religion is. I couldn’t do you a greater favour. Of course, this is not ‘my truth.’ If it were we all may as well go home now. James, the witness and sevant of Jesus Christ, filled with the Spirit of the living God, penned these words. They are God’s truth for us and all men, and God’s great definition of what acceptable religion is. James tells us that it consists of three indispensable ingredients.

1] Keeping your tongue in check
Isn’t this a wretched anticlimax ? After all this build-up, and all these brave words about you going to hear tonight about what real religion is, I proceed to tell you something as elementary as that ! You expected thunder and lightning, mystery and ecstasy, and instead you get a word about self-control. True religion is keeping a tight rein on your tongue, says James. It is much more than that, but without that there is no true Christianity. In other words, unless your religion shows itself in your language it is a counterfeit religion. The tongue is an outward visible indication of our inward spiritual state. The doctor in his consulting room says, “Show me your tongue,” and there are things he learns about your health from the appearance of your tongue.

James has some remarkable words to say about the tongue in chapter 3, “If someone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (v.2). That is the mark of a extraordinarily mature man – he can controls what he says because he keeps his whole body in check. When you read the letter of James you see this theme of guarding the tongue running right through it. There were obviously flare-ups amongst people in the congregation. James has mentioned this already about being slow to speak and being slow to get angry (v.19). But then he returns to this theme at length in chapter three for twelve verses, and in the fourth chapter people’s the danger of wild words is that section’s basic theme, and in chapter five he mentions grumbling (v.9) and swearing (v.12). So for James our words are crucial indicators of whether our religion is genuine or not. Who is controlling our tongues ? Is it Jesus Christ ?

Just for a moment think about our talking. How important do you think words are ? How crucial is it to take your stand for the truth, from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly and fully ? How important is it to speak well of people, to acknowledge their graces, defend their innocence, care for their good name ? How essential is it to keep the terms of a contract, and stand by your promises ? How do you judge policemen who lie under oath … false prophets … people who refuse to come forward to speak to clear someone’s name ? When the members of the Westminster Assembly spelled out the follies of an unbridled tongue in the Larger Catechism’s treatment of the ninth commandment – “Thou shalt not bear false witness” – their every word is like a rifle shot – lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale-bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash words, harsh words, flattering, boasting, aggravating minor faults, hiding sins, envying the abilities of others, contempt, innuendo, evil suspicion, rejoicing in others’ disgrace. I ask you again, how important do you think words are ? When men said of Jesus that he was Beelzebub, and when they shouted, “Away with him ! Crucify him ! Release unto us Barabbas !” and when they lied about him that they’d heard Jesus of Nazareth committing blasphemy – how important do you think words are ? When the words of the President of the USA are being examined to see if he has lied under oath and was guilty of perjury – how important are words ? How significant are the words of a marriage vow ? You would say, words are crucial. True and kind words are fundamental to any meaningful human existence. Life collapses if the tongue is without restraint. The little boy John Murray, later to become the great theologian, had told a fib and it clearly was on his conscience. As he was running in a race at the Bonar Bridge Junior School he suddenly vowed to himself that he would never tell another lie again. Is that a great decision to take ?

But you realise that James is arguing for a much bigger principle when he selects the example of the unbridled tongue. The basic principle at stake is self-control. That is how real genuine religion shows itself. But the phrase ‘self-control’ is rather vague, and we will all nod our agreement about a concept like self-control. James knows that it is crucial to bring our emotions and our affections under the word of God, and so he seizes on something alive and vivid to arouse our consciences – our words. The barometer of our self-control is how we are guarding and controlling our tongues. “Put a bridle on your tongue,” he is saying, or “Keep a tight rein on your tongue.” I was driving to Clarach this week following a cement lorry and on that narrow road passing the crematorium a horse was being ridden towards us. At the sight of the lorry the horse grew frightened: its ears pricked up: it tensed up as if it were one huge muscle, and strained on tiptoe, moving sideways into the hedge. The young girl riding it pulled on the reins: “Steady. Steady.” She called. All three cars stopped and we watched her in admiration as she brought it under control and rode it slowly sidling past the truck. James is talking about checking and restraining our language. Our overconfident, boasting, complaining tongues run out of control and they can do the damage of a runaway horse. Our tongues are like a semi-trained beasts with all their vigour and you need to keep a tight rein on them. Well, that sort of language is not popular today in religion or in life. We like to hear of horse trainers who ‘whisper’ to the animals. We also like a religion with whispers of the inner man gently guiding us on, but some of the most damaging words are spoken in whispers. Such ideas do not face up to the seriousness of human depravity. James is saying, “Remember self-control ! Keep a tight rein on your tongue.”

But control of the tongue is a part of self-control. True religion always shows itself in a man’s victory over every area of himself. You find that a man who is economic with the truth is also economic with his wedding vows. If he tells lies in the bedroom don’t be surprised if he also tells lies in the boardroom. He lacks self-control in eating, in drinking, in watching TV, in spending money, or spending time. Paul reminds the Philippians about some people, “many live as the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Phils. 3:19). Will that god help them in temptation ? I was reading about a TV personality who has a drink problem, and she finds support by mocking herself in her former condition. The more she laughs, the more determined she is not to return to that state. She is a quick-witted comedienne, but after a while her laughing at her drinking doesn’t seem so funny It is pitiful because this is her only resource: she casts herself on her humour, but she is making a joke of herself, and she is losing her personhood. She isn’t destroying herself by the bottle any longer, but she herself is withering away as someone to be laughed at. And she still isn’t in control of herself because now she isn’t in control of her tongue. She rejects drinking, but she also rejects the grace of the Lord Jesus. She has traded the bondage of drink for the bondage of self-mockery. She may even be worse off now perpetually laughing at herself than she was drinking herself under the table. Our message is not, “Control your eating and control your drinking and control your language.” But Christians say that self-control is the fruit of the Holy Spirit coming into your life, the result of a new birth, and the gift of God. Christians say, “Take the gift God is offering you through Jesus Christ. Accept this powerful person into your life. Don’t fight this alone.”

The Lord Jesus must have been enormously self-controlled – the way he had time for all who wanted to see him, time for weddings and feasts, time for children and Samaritans, time for teaching and healing, time for prayer and solitude. What a tight rein he kept on himself. What benefit has come to all of us because he guarded himself. He knows what it is to be under pressure, to be tempted to really let those fools have it – right between the eyes. But Jesus didn’t; he was self-controlled, and we Christians claim that he actually helps us, outwardly by our reading his life in the New Testament and having his word preached to us, and inwardly by our access to him as our indwelling Saviour.

Let me give you an example from Acts chapter 23 of how this Saviour helps us to be self-controlled. The apostle Paul once was being interrogated and someone viscously slapped him across the face. The pain of it made Paul raise his voice, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall !” (Acts 23:3). It was a total monkey court, a travesty of justice, and Paul was right to speak out against men punching people on trial. Then it was pointed out to Paul that the man who had given orders for him to be hit was in fact the high priest Ananias. Paul immediately submits to the word of God. He himself quotes Exodus 22:28 which forbids speaking evil of rulers. He controls his own emotions. He apologises to his oppressors. With all the pressures he is under he restrains himself. How did he do it ? By knowledge of the word, and by the indwelling power of the Lord Jesus Christ. “My grace is sufficient for you, Paul.” “Fine,” says Paul, “then I can glory in provocation, and men’s hatred, and slaps in the face, because when I am weak, then am I strong.”

That’s an example of Paul’s self-restraint, but think of his teaching on self-restraint in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Paul tells those Christians in the carnal city of Corinth that he was tough on his own body. He knew some of them were tough on their servants, and others were tough with their animals, but Paul was tough on himself. He treated his body like an inadequately trained Rottweiler dog. A Rottweiler can do terrible damage, and if you are going to keep such an animal then it must obey you implicitly and totally. It must be your servant. When you say “Come !” it comes; “Stop !” it stops. “I beat my body and make it my slave,” Paul says. He didn’t indulge his fleshly instincts. He didn’t feed it tasty morsels. He was methodical and disciplined in his life. He controlled his bodily instincts. He didn’t encourage them to think they had any life apart from him. His body was under his mind and under his conscience and under his will and all those parts of his life and his whole life was bound captive to Jesus Christ. That is where self-control comes from. That is the first mark of true religion. James tells us to keep our tongues in check.

2] Get your hands dirty.
Loving our neighbour as ourselves is the second great commandment, and here it is the consequent indispensable ingredient of true religion. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (v.27). Isn’t this incredible ? We are being given the only brief definition of pure and faultless religion in the New Testament, and now James tells us a necessary ingredient lies in looking after orphans and widows. It must seem so shattering to many of you: you don’t know of any orphans, and you can’t relate to any widows.

What is James doing here? He is not giving us a comprehensive definition of religion but he is making this very important point, that religion without getting your hands dirty is worthless Christianity. James is speaking of the helpless people which God in his providence brings into our lives. In his day who would look after the aged frail senile widow ? Who would keep and raise unwanted children ? You exposed them, especially if they were girls. True religion, James is saying, shows itself in looking after that neighbour of yours who is in need. We can expand the list of needy people can’t we ? The neighbour we meet may be the sufferer with AIDS, the mentally handicapped, the elderly, the totally deaf, the drug addict, the homeless, the street children, the flood and famine victims, and the refugees.

Notice the biblical order here in James, that it is very personal, so that first a man must learn self-control – he keeps a tight rein on himself, and then consequently he is in a fit state to look out to the people around him and ask, “What can I do for these ?” It has to be in that order. A man who hasn’t learned self control would be dynamite to put among orphans or widows. James’ three definitions of true religion hang together, and that is what makes this ministry of mercy distinctively Christian. I believe that there would be many other people on this globe who see the same needs as ourselves, and they are also asking what they can do. They will be from every denomination in the Christian faith, and some of them will be from other religions, and some will be communists and atheists. They are all made in God’s image and they will be touched by the plight of people in need. Certainly we can become CO-belligerents with these people, but we can never become their allies. We can, for example, speak out against pornography with Mormons, but we can never become the Mormons’ allies. We have a different agenda. We are going to minister to the whole person. Our analysis of what is wrong with the human condition is not Darwinian – it is not the fight for the survival of the fittest that makes people act as inhumanly as they do – it is because of man’s fall into sin. That has ruined mankind, and our gospel of the redeeming love of God we believe to be the only power that can transform men. Our message is that we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but the Son of God because he loved us died instead of us. That message colours everything we bring to the world. So we cannot be allies with those who deny that, but there are good causes, and we can work as CO-belligerents alongside them in those objectives. We think of the wisdom and zeal of some of our Roman Catholic friends in their opposition to abortion.

James says that true religion will evidence itself in such a ministry of mercy as looking after orphans and widows, but James did not organise the church to bring pressure on Caesar, or the Jewish High Priests, or the Greek mystery religions to do this. James does not open up a para-church organisation for widows and for orphans. He is speaking to these Christians in their churches, and he is reminding them of their duties. Of course it will require organisation and manpower. In the Jerusalem church there was a daily distribution of food to the widows in the church. There were tables to wait on. There was plenty of wise planning. There would have been a rota and collectors and cleaners. There was weariness and dirty hands because there was pure religion being evidenced.

Let us think to ourselves that we are the members of the Jericho Road church, and as we leave the church today we come across a man who has been beaten up, robbed and stripped, and he is lying there in the road and we can’t avoid him. James is telling us, “Don’t be like the priest and the levite who hurried by without stopping. On Jericho Road you must be like the Good Samaritan. Do what you can to help this beaten-up man, because he is your neighbour.” You older members of the congregation will remember how the Christian home for those with learning difficulties began in Aberystwyth. No one came to this church with an agenda. We simply saw two people in need and their families, and we learned how we could help them as our neighbours, and we did help, and so did Christians across the land. We did it because Jesus Christ had changed our hearts and made us compassionate and aware of our duty to love our neighbour as ourselves. For some of you that meant sacrificial Christian giving, and for others your skills as draughtsmen and quantity surveyors came to the fore. You gave freely because God had given freely his Son for you. You were seeking to look after mentally handicapped people in the name of Jesus Christ. Remember God’s example immediately after the fall of man, how God saw their nakedness and he made garments and he clothed them. Man needed protection from a hostile environment, and it was the Lord himself who provided it. We read about Job, who lived before the patriarchs, right at the dawn of time, and we hear him say then, “I was a father to the needy; I took up the cause of the stranger” (Job 29:16). Think of those widows who were converted in the Jerusalem congregation, Jewish and Gentile women who had been saved by the love of Jesus Christ, and the seriousness with which the revival church of Acts 6 addressed the problem of helping them. The apostles spent so much time in that ministry of mercy that they gathered the congregation and said to them, “This is too much. Our first priority is prayer and preaching. Let us appoint other men to do this.” But the church didn’t choose just anyone for this work, but seven men filled with faith and the Holy Spirit – only such could truly care for widows in the way James is talking about here.

Look at the Lord Jesus, because he is the great motivator for us to help the needy. He is the real Adam, the real man, and he goes about we are told, “doing good.” He got his hands dirty serving and helping sinners. God did good to sinners. And the Lord Jesus is also the true High Priest full of compassion for people; moved when he sees the street children of the Philippines, touched by the feeling of our infirmities, full of mercy, love and power. This is the only God there is. Again Jesus Christ is the great deacon; he was the richest deacon the church has ever had, but for sinners’ sakes he become the poorest, and washed sinners’ feet. He poured himself out in costly service. In his grace he dealt with our sins; in his mercy he dealt with our misery. It was he who told the parable of the good Samaritan. It was he who never could pass by a neighbour in need, and we are praying, “make me like him.” Are we ? Do we consciously model ourselves on the Lord Jesus ?

In a sermon on this theme B.B.Warfield answers the objection people raise to giving money and energy towards a Christian ministry of mercy to orphans and widows:- “Objection 1. ‘My money is my own.’ Answer, Christ might have said, ‘my blood is my own, my life is my own’ … then where should we have been ? Objection 2. ‘The poor are undeserving.’ Answer: Christ might have said, ‘They are wicked rebels … shall I lay down my life for these ? I will give to the good angels.’ But no, he left the ninety-nine, and came for the lost, he gave his blood for the undeserving. Objection 3. ‘The poor may abuse it.’ Answer: Christ might have said the same; yea, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood. Oh, my dear Christians ! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word. ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (The Person and Work of Christ, p.574).

What is true religion, accepted as pure and faultless by God our Father ? To look after orphans and widows in their distress; to love your orphaned neighbour as your non-orphaned self, to love your widowed neighbour as your non-widowed self. To give your time and your energy and your money for them. Who is going to bother with needy people ? Those who know that God bothered about them. This is our sacrifice to God. How can I show the Lord how much I love him for giving himself for me ? If he were here on earth I could wait on him, and give him my most delicious cooking, and take him on a holiday, and give him the best things. He is not on earth but his people are and when you do those same things to the least of his people you are doing that to him. It’s your doxology to him to look after orphans and widows in their distress.

It all stems from the cross of Christ. Because the Lord Jesus kept back nothing from us we keep back nothing in his service. “Love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.” Imagine a person who is seriously ill, but the doctor tells him that there is a miracle drug. Without it he has no hope. “But,” the doctor says, “I must warn you that this drug is extremely expensive. It will cost you all the money you’ve got in the bank, the sale of your house and all your possessions. You will have to sell your car – everything you’ve got to buy this drug. It may be too high a price.” The man replies to the doctor, “What does my car mean to me ? What good will my house be if I should die ? I must have this drug; it is precious to me. Those other things which were once so important to me now look like trinkets compared to this medicine. They are all expendable. I must have that cure or I die.” He gives up everything for that one thing. The apostle Peter says that to those who believe, Jesus Christ is precious (I Pet. 2:7). He is like the most perfect lustrous pearl that the world has ever seen. A pearl trader sells all the pearls he has to possess this one. Christ is like a miracle drug to a dying man – he must have that. Christ is worth more to us than all we possess, more than our lives themselves. Everything is expendable except the Christ. We don’t have to live but we have to have Jesus Christ. He has taught us everything, especially what love is. The apostle John says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him ? Dear children, let us not love with word or tongue but with actions and in truth” ( 1 John 3:16-18). Once you have Christ your life is opened up. The walls come down: the shutters are taken away. We have a new vision of the world. We go out and out. Our lives are spent for others as he spent himself for us. We’re absorbed by other people in their need. We enter into their loneliness, their hopes and fears. We become many-sided in spirit. We don’t live one life but a thousand lives, in Kenya and in Benin and in France and in America, bound to a thousand orphans and widows. So, true religion is seen in keeping your tongue in check, getting your hands dirty, and thirdly

3] Keep Your Life Clean
It is not the definition of religion you expected is it ? But this is what James says here in v.27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: … to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” There are three things here aren’t there ?

i] ‘to keep oneself.’ You keep yourself, James says. “But God keeps us,” someone protests: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” True. We are “kept by the power of God,” Peter says. True. One day someone bumped into the formidable Arthur Pink in Stornaway and said to him, “How are you keeping ?” “Not keeping. Being kept.” Came the terse reply. All that is true, but nevertheless every Christian has to keep himself. We keep ourselves precisely because God is keeping us. It is that dynamic so helpfully described in Philippians 2:12, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” We work at the implications of being a Christian because God is working in us. We show mercy to others because God is constantly showing mercy to us. We hang in with difficult people because God is hanging in with us. We watch ourselves because God is watching us. We keep ourselves because God is keeping us. It is 100% God and 100% man. We work because he is at work in us.

So when God tells us to keep ourselves we listen. “Peter, Satan is testing you. Keep yourself. Peter, watch and pray. Keep yourself. Before the cock crows twice thou shalt deny me thrice. Keep yourself, Peter.” Don’t take such exhortations in some blase way. Treat them seriously. Abraham in a foreign land with powerful men fancying your wife – keep yourself. Noah, the grape harvest is in and vats of fine wine are in the cellar – keep yourself. David, wandering aimlessly on the roof of the palace overlooking a beautiful woman’s house – keep yourself. Peter, warming your hands by a fire and no Christians around in a suspicious world – keep yourself.” Keep the imagination of the thoughts of your heart. Keep a covenant with your eyes. Keep looking unto Jesus. Keep your self-control. Keep the promises alive. Keep following the Lamb wherever he goes. Keep your quiet times. The Christian keeps himself.

ii] The Christian keep himself from being polluted. Sinking the local lead mines a century ago began the pollution of the river Ystwyth and for years made it sterile. What percentage of lead in a stream kills the fishes just spawned – the fry ? It is an insignificant amount, less than 1%. If someone told you that a glass of water was polluted with just a very small amount of poison would you drink it ? Of course not. You want unpolluted food and drink. There is an absolute obsession with the pollution of the planet. Friends of the earth raise their voices and protest highly about poisoning the air, rivers, seas and land. What about personal moral pollution ? Isn’t there enough sin in advertising, on the Internet, in magazines, newspapers, TV, cinema and common conversations to pollute anyone’s life, who isn’t wary ? Keep yourself from being polluted, James says. Can you keep being spiritually efficient while doing what you do ? A man said to me, “I could not live in London. The temptations there are far too great for me. It was not helpful while I lived there. I had to move away.” He knew he was being polluted. He wanted to keep himself. Remember what a very unpolluted man said in the last century. His name was Robert Murray McCheyne, and he died while he was still in his 20’s and many became true Christians through his influence. He said, “Above all things cultivate your own spirit. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. Seek advance in personal holiness. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. One word spoken by you when your conscience is clear and your heart is full of God’s Spirit, is worth 10,000 words spoken in unbelief and sin.” There was a man who took the responsibility of keeping himself from being polluted very seriously, and all of us have benefited from that.

iii] The Christian is to keep himself from being polluted by the world. James uses the word ‘world’ five times in this letter and each time negatively. It does not refer to the creation, but James uses the phrase just as the apostle John does meaning mankind alienated from God and hostile to Christ. John defines it as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It is a menacing system operating apart from God and his Word. Jesus considered it to be decaying, and that Christians were called to preserve it as its salt. He saw it as darkness, and Christians, he said, were to be the light of the world.

So here is a dilemma. True religion consists of us doing such things as looking after orphans who’ve been abandoned, and senile grannies dumped by their families. No one can do that without getting very involved in the lives of others, their legal rights, and their social and economic welfare. We are to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, and yet very involved in our world. that is the Christian dilemma. In the world, but not of it. That defines it. The answer is not for every Christian to leave London, and certainly not for us to move away to the wilderness. You remember the Lord Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (v.15). So unpolluted involvement on this earth is our vocation. I guess that that is the most difficult thing to do. The Lord Jesus managed it. He went to dinners and weddings and was spotless. He talked to a morally compromised woman while sitting at a well in Samaria and remained unpolluted. He allowed a women to pour fragrant perfumed oil over him, and weep over his feet and dry those feet with her hair and yet he stayed unpolluted by the world. You can be like him, whatever the challenge. You can become a nurse and help sick men to bath, and take art at university, and become a gynaecologist, and enter politics, and join the army, and participate in sport at a high level, and play in a band, and become a successful businessman and not be polluted by the world. Don’t give up. Be aware of the dilemma, and ask the Saviour to help you. He will be touched with the feeling of your infirmity because he has been tempted in every point as you are.

There is always a way to stay pure. Think of the days when the snow melts and there is nothing by slush and water and mud everywhere. Walk on the pavement. Keep away from the gutter: Steer clear of the puddles; watch out for the cars and trucks as they come near those pools of water; you know that there is going to be spray and mud. Keep yourself. So too in the world, there is a way of Christ likeness and walking in step with the Spirit so that we keep pure. There are all the daily pressures to grow stale. Keep on the narrow way. There are the little things that can make us dirty. There is the ceaseless bombardment of our eyes, ears, thoughts and imaginations. Keep on the narrow way. Our values are under attack; our standards are threatened. Keep on the narrow way. Never mock holy things. Always admire purity, innocence, gentleness and modesty. Never think it is sophisticated to use some bad language, to drink just a little too much, to get a little way-out in your clothes, to have to see every adult movie that everyone is talking about. Know that God expects you if you are a true religious man to keep yourself from being polluted by the world.

Three great definitions of those who have, through faith in Jesus Christ, found true religion – keep your tongue in check, get your hands dirty and keep your life clean. GEOFF THOMAS 27 September 1998