Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.
In some Christian circles, the words religion and religious carry a negative connotation. It is an allusion to the religious leaders of Jesus’s time who served themselves and the world instead of serving God. They clung to the idols of tradition, status, power and wealth, and they let that taint their perception of the truths that they had spent so many years studying but never understood. Because of their idolatry and stubbornness, their knowledge did not become wisdom, and they did not recognize their Messiah once He appeared. Their problem was not that they had religion or were religious, their problem was that their religion was impure.
James tells us that there is such a thing as a pure and unblemished religion. This type of religion prompts us to be selfless by caring for those who cannot care for themselves. It makes us holy, set apart from the world, uncontaminated by that which makes the worldly unclean. The call is not to follow no religion and be unreligious; the call is to follow the pure religion and be religious in our practice of it. Being religious in this manner is not about ceremony and tradition but about obedience and understanding the word and will of God.
We are to be a religious people, but our religion must be pure and unblemished. Our religion is love, but it is God’s love and not the world’s counterfeit version of it. For us, being religious is being obedient, self-sacrificing and holy. Father, instill in us the religious practices that make our religion perfect and pure, strengthening our obedience and our desire to exhibit your love in all we do.