If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
This passage of James gives us a pretty hard punch in the gut, because of our sin nature and our pride. It’s a true reality check for where we are in our relationship with Jesus. Here in this passage James is showing us the difference between true faith and having a relationship with God. Versus the acts of religion which stem from a false salvation. He is showing us the difference between faith that saves and religion that destroys. The difference between being a true follower of Jesus and just going to church. What James is speaking about is our hearts. When no one else is watching us, when no one else can see us, where is our heart really at toward Jesus? Do we just call ourselves religious or do we really have a relationship with Christ Jesus our Lord? Do we really call Jesus our Lord, our Master and our God? The Greek word used here by James for religion is “threskeia” and it’s a word that refers to the ritual, ceremonial practices of religion, but not to faith itself. It refers to the external observances which one performs in public as part of their religious practice, but has no bearing whatsoever on their standing with God or their hearts toward Christ.
The Bible has made it clear that anyone can act or be religious and still not know God. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were a perfect example of that. Our salvation is not dependent on our good works or the laws or rituals we keep. Our salvation is dependent on one thing alone and that is our relationship with Jesus. And what James is telling us is that anyone who thinks they are religious. Those who call themselves religious because they go to church. Those who follow religious ordinances, but cannot bridle their tongue. Their religious acts are in fact nothing more than worthless public exercises of religion. And what they are doing as it relates to religion is absolutely pointless and has no effect on their standing with God. James is telling us that such a religion is nothing more than a worthless public performance. It’s meant only for the applause and recognition of men. Dear child of God, this is the scariest part for all people to face. Anyone who does this and thinks it means something to God is deceiving their own heart. They are fooling themselves that they are going to heaven. When in fact, they’re heading for Hell and eternal separation from God. Because the first and foremost thing God looks at is our relationship with Jesus, nothing else matters as far as eternity is concerned, other than our relationship with Jesus. If we truly have given our hearts over to Him, everything else will naturally fall into place.