Main point summary
Pure religion is one that is focused both inwardly and outwardly. It not only cares about oneself but others as well, especially those in need. It is both spiritual and practical.
If anyone thinks he is religious
IF anyone 1. inwardly thinks of himself as a religious person practicing pure religion before God,
q and does not bridle his tongue
AND 2. outwardly this person does not control what he says (i.e. he says whatever he feels like)
but deceives his heart,
that is, he is fooling his heart, thinking he is religious, but showing no evidence of it
[ then ]this person’s r religion is worthless.
THEN this person's so-called religion is completely worthless and of no value whatsoever.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
That is not pure and undefiled religion in God's eyes, but this is:
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
Pure and spotless religion is 1. visiting and meeting the needs of orphans and widows (those who have no one to care for their needs) in the middle of their suffering,
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
AND 2. It is keeping yourself clean from any of the spots and stains of the world.
The attack is not on religion in v26 because v27 shows religion in a postive light. The attack is on thinking you are religious while also not bridling your tongue, which is deceiving your own heart.
Religion that is only supposed but not shown outwardly is worthless.
Pure religion is that which helps those in need and maintains spiritual cleanliness.
James is not attacking religion in v26 because in v27 he shows religion in a positive light. The attack is on thinking you are religious while also not bridling your tongue, which is deceiving your own heart. He condemns the idea that you can separate inward, personal behavior and outward, interpersonal behavior. This reminds me of his "faith without works" teaching later on. The specific outward behavior mentioned in v26 concerns a person's speech. The specific outward behavior in v27 is acts of mercy. What is the connection? One without the other makes for a worthless religion. Religion is not just acts of kindness and good works. Neither is it simply focusing on self and personal holiness. Religion that pleases God focuses on my own spiritual condition and seeks to help others in tangible ways. Pure religion is an inward and outward thing.