What comes to mind when you think of pure Christianity? For most Christians the immediate thought is a lifestyle which is high on morals and low on personal sin. Being pure has an image of a clean or an unpolluted life, almost free of sin. It is someone who has resisted sin and its influence over their thought-life, over their behaviour and over their actions. It is someone who is living in personal victory over sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is certainly one true picture of a pure Christian. So does that mean that in order to be a pure Christian in South Africa in 2009, we need to withdraw from society and go to live in an environment where no sin even tempts us? Is this a person who lives in his or her prayer room and who hardly comes out? While there is value in this lifestyle, it is certainly not what Jesus' half brother, James, had in mind when he spoke about pure Christianity. Pure and faultless Christianity, for him, is far from a withdrawn lifestyle. In fact it is almost the exact opposite - it is a Christian who is highly involved in compassionate action amongst the most needy in society. For him, a pure Christian is one who, while seeking to live as close to the Lord as possible, is also out there wherever you find the hurting and broken, the poor and needy, the orphan and the widow. A pure and faultless Christian is one who is involved where there is tragedy, poverty and need.
James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, puts it this way in James 1:27 “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.”
The orphans and widows really represent the poor and needy of society. In applying this Scripture to our lives today, it is not limited to widows and orphans only, but all who are poor, needy and vulnerable in our communities. What James was saying was not new to Scriptural teaching. Throughout the history of Israel, God’s people struggled with Him over this issue of just going through the motions to keep God happy and to keep up an appearance of faith. In Micah we can hear God's heart breaking over His people; as yet again they just don’t get it! He doesn’t want us to just go through the motions and the ritual; He wants our hearts, hands and feet to be involved in worshipping and serving Him. “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:7-8
Here is real, pure and faultless Christianity. Act justly in everything, love being merciful to those who you feel don’t deserve any mercy and walk humbly and carefully in the presence of God. This is not in order to earn your way into Heaven. You can never earn your way into Heaven by being pure and faultless. Our compassion towards others and care of the vulnerable does not add to our salvation in anyway. Our salvation is completely by God’s Grace alone. But because God has saved us through His Grace, we in turn should reach out in love to others because of our thankfulness to Him. If we truly understand what God has done for us, it will overflow into compassionate action to the poor, needy and vulnerable. Without this overflow God says our worship is empty. Empty Christianity is a ritual; but pure and faultless Christianity is love in action that extends God’s Grace and love towards those who need it most.
Pure and faultless Christianity is not identified by how regular a church attendee you are or by how precise you are about tithing or how disciplined you are about your prayer life. Pure Christianity is involved in the lives of real people with real needs. While your personal life needs to have a purity that is unpolluted by sin and duplicity, that alone is not enough to be a pure Christian. Purity has a very practical outworking to the needy.
Our faith must not only have our hands raised in prayer, praise and worship to God, but hands that are caring and calloused from serving the poor and the needy. It is this mix that makes for real Christianity. Loving and caring for the vulnerable is not an optional extra, or a job allocated to specialists within the church whom we pay to care on our behalf. It is the only brand of Christianity the Bible knows. Most of us, unfortunately, suffer from a form of Christianity which has a significant disconnect with Biblical lifestyle.
If you are ignoring the poor and the needy around you, then your Christian walk is in trouble. Don’t talk about being madly in love with Jesus, unless you are living that out in a great relationship in looking after the poor, the needy and the vulnerable. You have to get real and practical in your Christian life and live out the command from God to be a genuine carer of those in real need anywhere in society, not just those who are family or friends. We must look after people in distress whatever their needs. There is no way around it.
A private Christianity that apparently has a deep devotional private relationship with Jesus is not what the Bible calls a pure Christian. The Bible says a pure and faultless Christian is someone who cares for the needy in their distress and who seeks to live a holy life for God. How are you doing as a pure and faultless Christian?
How are you doing in your Christian walk? Are you so focused on keeping yourself and your personal walk with God in check that you have neglected to love and care for those around you? Perhaps you are scared to get involved as the work of caring and loving broken people is not easy and is often messy? God was not slow to get involved when He sent Jesus to rescue us from our sin. The Psalmist paints a descriptive picture of our rescue: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” Ps 40:2. It is in God’s nature to get involved, to intervene. He expects us to be like Him.