The Expository Files

 Keeping Yourself Unspotted From The World

James 1:26,27

"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. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." James 1:26,27

One truth immediately clear from this passage is, it is not enough just to think that you are religious. Religion in the New Testament is not just a matter of what you think and claim; it is matter of your individual response of heart to God. It is the activity of your faith in Christ, beginning with baptism and continuing therefore to trust and obey.

In verse 26, James gives one example of useless religion: thinking you are religious while not controlling the tongue, thus deceiving your own heart. In verse 27, James gives two three examples of pure and undefiled religion: (1) visiting orphans, (2) visiting widows and (3) keeping oneself unspotted from the world. James - in verse 26 - does not cite every possible example of useless religion. Likewise in verse 27, he doesn't cite every possible
example of pure and undefiled religion; only three. All of this needs our personal attention. But in this article I want to highlight the familiar admonition to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

The Term "World"

In the Scriptures, "world" is used in different contexts. The term is used in at least three ways: (1) The physical world, composed of water, soil, atmosphere, vegetation, etc. {example: Naham 1:5}. (2) The human world, made up of people; "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son," {Jno. 3:16}. (3) The world in the moral sense, which is composed of all those things that attract us away from God {see 2 Pet. 1:4; Tit. 2:12; Rom. 12:2; 1 Jno. 2:15-17}. The teaching of James 1:27 requires that we shun any and every form of attitude, action or association that would move us away from God. Because of the influence of God's grace in my life, I should be determined to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and therefore - keep myself unspotted from the world.

This Is An Individual Responsibility

This section in James chapter one was not written as instruction to local churches. Begin with verse 19 and read to the end of the chapter. This is addressed to individuals. It is not about the budget of a local church; it is not about building and maintaining an institution. It is teaching directed to individuals: Bridle your tongue; do not deceive your heart; personally take up the cause of orphans and widows in their trouble.

And, keep yourself unspotted from the world. I cannot pay a committee to keep me unspotted from the world. I cannot hire an agent, to keep me unspotted from the world. I cannot make arrangements or enter into a contract for anybody else to do this for me (however they may love me, and however anxious I am for them to have the job). It is my job, based on my commitment to the Lord and my diligence with His word, to keep myself unspotted from the world.

Your family background can get you ready to do this; your friends can encourage you; the local church can provide teaching for this purpose. But in the day to day life you must life, you must do this: keep yourself unspotted from the world. Watch what you do, and who you associate with. Be careful what you think, what you say, how you deal with people and the approach of temptation. Use the Word of God to personally keep yourself unspotted from the world. You cannot really be a Christian until you accept this individual responsibility.


Often in Bible study, if you want more information about what a word or phrase means, you can find something on the same page that will help; contextual references near the phrase in question. Being unspotted from the world is defined within the book of James - before Jas. 1:27 and after. Before the verse, in James 1:21 - "Lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness." After the verse, in James 4:7,8 - "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts,
you double-minded." To keep myself unspotted from the world, I must lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and I must purify my heart and cleanse my hands. This is all about personal repentance and determination to avoid all sin and error.

God has forbidden us to participate in very specific mis-behaviors. "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God," Gal. 5:19-21.

I must use the Word of God to monitor my heart. If I detect any beginnings of any of these behaviors, I must put them away, to maintain the activity of my faith in God and keep myself unspotted from the world.

This is "Pure and Undefiled Religion Before God and the Father"

I'm afraid, when most people think of religion, they do not think of God the Father. They do not think first of Him and the spiritual blessings He provides in Christ. They think of church stuff (people, groups, organizations, buildings and movements). We are strongly influenced by the religious culture of our time - which is marked by denominations, churches, organizations, human tradition and ritual. It will be to our eternal advantage to identify religion first with God. Right religion is man's response to Him. When man's response is in keeping with His instructions and is expressive of
faith in His Son - then you have "pure and undefiled religion." Anything else is vain.

Finally, if I fail to keep myself unspotted from the world, it really does not matter what else I do! I may learn Bible history well; be able to quote the Bible freely and accurately; win debates with top denominational apologists and give all my goods to feed the poor . . . AND fast three times a week and give my body to be burned. But if I fail to keep myself unspotted from the world, I am not a God-pleasing participant in pure and undefiled religion. Where do you stand at this moment?

By Warren E. Berkley
 From Expository Files 9.3; March 2002