Religion and Righteousness -tmp(James 1:26-27)

Is surpassing the righteousness of the Pharisees all that hard ({{Matt
5:20}})? A group of conniving murderers who bribe people to get what
they want? No problem, right?

They judged Jesus worthy of murder after an illegal trial. They
traded Him for a terrorist. They put a rush order on His crucifixion so
that they could be clean in time for religious supper. Compounding
their error they honestly believed that their guilty hands were clean.

As to the letter of the Law, though, they could possibly be
seen as blameless. Remember, Paul who was a very zealous Jew, a
Pharisee of Pharisees, never missing synagogue on the Sabbath ({{Phil
3:5-6}})—was the same one who stood by holding coats while an innocent
man was stoned to death ({{Acts 7:58}}). You couldn’t bring a charge
against the man regarding his religion but according to Jesus’
clarification of the Law ({{Matt 5:48}}) he had much to answer for.

So surpassing the Pharisaic righteousness is getting past the
exterior adherence to righteousness. It is that actual perfect
righteousness that is in the Father—making it downright impossible.

Paul would unabashedly point to this surpassing righteousness
obviously beyond man’s ability. Before an enemy of God and now, on the
basis of faith, Paul was grateful that the righteousness from God would
let him know Christ—from death, to resurrection to fellowship in his
suffering and finally being conformed. Yet Paul acknowledged that he
hasn’t attained at that point. He wasn’t perfect but he pressed on
towards that goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ
Jesus ({{Phil 3:10-14}}).

So this righteousness is an internal righteousness made
available by an external source, which is God by Christ through faith.
Not only that, it’s a perfect righteousness that will be complete in a
later date.

James furthers this thinking. It’s not that a Christian is to
throw up his hands and say, “I’m merely looking through a fuzzy
mirror—perfection is to come, so I give up.” Rather the Christian, like
Paul, must lay hold of that which Christ has made available and press
towards it. James would have us look at that perfection as a mature
uprightness consisting of constancy.

Note his emphasis: Let endurance have its perfect result so
that you may be perfect and complete ({{James 1:4}}); God gives perfect
gifts and this is put in contrast to the personal lusts which conceive
sin ({{James 1:15, 16}}); one is to look into the perfect law and
become a doer and not merely a hearer ({{James 1:23-26}}); perfected
faith produces works ({{James 2:22}}); a man who doesn’t stumble in
what he says is a perfect man able to bridle his body as well as his
mouth ({[James 3:2}}).

Now here’s the connection where the Pharisees would have
faltered at ({{James 1:26-27}}): if anyone thinks himself to be
religious and yet doesn’t bother bridling his tongue but deceives his
own heart—his religion is worthless.

Look at them, proud in their righteousness, cloaked in their
exterior religion thanking God that they’re not like this or that
sinner—is it possible for a believer to do the same? Apparently James
does since he launches into this bit right after discussing a person
who looks into a mirror and ignores what’s there before going merrily
on their way. James would have us understand that the perfect law of
liberty doesn’t merely reflect what we’re doing it reflects who we
are…so fix yourself up!

Take care with looking at Scriptures and saying “Oh, I need to
be more hospitable—better invite some people over” or “I’m to love my
brothers and sisters—better bake a cake.” Yes, we’re to be active but
we’re also to let that exposure by God’s word affect our hearts. If
not, it is frighteningly easy to settle into Pharisaic righteousness by
looking at all we’re doing and ignoring our secret attitudes that need
to be brought under subjection as well ({{2 Cor 10:5}}).

It’s too easy to be cloaked in religion and deceive ourselves.
Reading the Bible every day, inviting folk over, visiting the sick,
preaching every other Sunday or leading the women in devotions,
teaching the younger sisters, clothed modestly—all while envying that
brother’s preaching or that sister’s cooking or outright hating this
brother or that sister. Frighteningly easy to stand tall and tear up
your brother (or sister) because of some supposed Christian failing
while being driven by anger or self-seeking.

There was a certain Shechem, drawn away by his passions; he
forced Jacob’s daughter to lay with him. Feeling remorse, he spoke
gently to Dinah then asked his father to acquire her as a wife. Failing
to come up with some marriage gift to give the family he offered them
anything. Simeon and Levi devoutly told the young man and his father
that they would never give their sister to uncircumcised men. Only
people who submitted to their way of life, who were circumcised would
be allowed to marry their sister.

I can almost see Jacob in complete agreement and amazed at his
sons’ uprightness while excitedly explaining the meaning of

Shechem not only submitted to be circumcised but also spoke to
the local authorities to get the city to do the same. A city of
gentiles, seeing the benefit of being joined with Israel’s family,
agreed to take the symbol of their covenant.  And in that moment
of collective weakness, where all the men lay recovering from the
operation, Simeon and Levi entered into the city and slew all the men,
took back their sister, looted every house of wealth, woman and child.
When Israel saw them he cried out that they have made his name to stink
in the land ({{Gen 34}}).

Their response showed no remorse, but in their embraced anger
they stood and piously scorned the slain “Should he treat our sister
like a whore?”

James highlights many of these religious pitfalls. 
Holding an attitude (not action) of partiality while holding faith in
Jesus ({{Jas 2:1}}). Adhering to justification by faith while ignoring
perfecting action ({{Jas 2:14-26}}). Teaching without changing and
ignoring the burden of a greater judgment ({{Jas 3:1}}). Blessing God
while cursing men who are in the image of God ({{Jas 3:9}}). Friendship
with the world while a friend of God ({{Jas 4:4}}). Judging a brother
and the law while supposedly being a doer of the law ({{Jas 4:11}}).

Jesus exhorted that a person’s righteousness should surpass
that of the Pharisees not only in action, but also in
thought—impossible. Paul points that we will never be perfect until a
later day but we are to continue towards that mark—made possible by
God. James shows us the pitfalls and tells us how to get around
them—especially if we say we are of God.


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One reply on “Religion and Righteousness -tmp(James 1:26-27)”

actually it doesn’t matter what Religion you may have, as long as you treat the other person right.:,;

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