We learn in the prior verses that there are hearers of the Word, and then there are doers of the word. The hearer-only is foolish, but the doer will be blessed by God. Christianity is meant to be lived , not just listened to . The hearer-only may think that he is a religious person. He may do some external rituals that make him feel like his is a religious person. He has a "form" of godliness, but that kind of religion has no practical effect on his life outside of the trappings or forms. For instance, there is no practical effect on his tongue. He therefore deceives himself. He is not religious at all, at least not in the sense that James extols. (For this devotional, I purposefully set aside the common explanation of "religion" as negative and "relationship" as positive. James uses religion in a positive sense, like we use "true Christianity" or "a genuine relationship with God.") True religion--that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God--is completely different than the useless religion. By implication, truly religious people will control their tongues. And by explicit statement, James adds that they will be benevolent toward those in afflictions. I take this to be generally applicable, not limited to only widows and orphans, but to any in affliction whether in poverty or in sickness or the the like. And finally, James says that truly religious people will make every effort to maintain their moral purity--and that in the midst of a world that attempts to get us to do the opposite. We have to correlate this passage with others in James, Ephesians, 1 John, and the rest of the New Testament to understand fully that it is not mere works that make real religion, but true faith, out of which those works flow. True faith includes personal trust in Christ and sound, Biblical doctrine.
Main point summary
There are two kinds of religion: a useless kind and a pure kind. True Christianity results in a controlled tongue, benevolence toward the afflicted, and moral purity.
If anyone thinks he is religious
On the one hand , if a person considers himself to be religious
q and does not bridle his tongue
and at the same time does not control his tongue
but deceives his heart,
but rather deceives himself in his heart,
this person’s r religion is worthless.
then his religion has no value.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
On the other hand [in contrast to that useless kind of religion] there is a pure and undefiled kind of religion, and it is this:
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
for one thing , it includes helping orphans and widows through their afflictions,
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
and for another thing , it includes keeping oneself morally pure from the evil influence of the world.