Last Sunday was Orphan Sunday where we looked at James 1:27—“pure and faultless religion is to look after widows and orphans in their distress.” We saw a glimpse, through the Bible, of God’s deep heart of love and compassion and concern for those in deep suffering, especially orphans. We heard from other Elevators and their deep heart of love and compassion and concern for orphans, their own personal stories of journeying with God as He helps them to put that love into practice, and we also learned of practical ways that all of us can love orphans—locally and globally—as God commands and invites us to. Those practical ways to love orphans are still at the Connections Desk…
This morning I want to look at the second half of James 1:27, the other side of the coin of “pure and faultless” religion, the other part of this oft-quoted verse and that isn’t often quoted or even taught on! “Pure and faultless religion is [also] to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” having beliefs, thoughts, words and plans—our soul!—that are pure and clean and holy and Biblical, that line up with Jesus & His Word and that don’t line up with Jezebel and the world.
Why is this second half of the verse so rarely quoted or taught on? That is another important question for another sermon! But let’s just agree together that the second half of this verse is overlooked, both by pastors and Christians. We think doing acts of love toward others is more important than keeping our minds, hearts, souls, and beliefs clean for God…yet God links them both together in this verse as being equally important! He says “and” not “or” in James 1:27…
The Bible reveals that there are two main pollutants of sin in this world: within each of us and outside all of us. I will focus on what James 1:27 talks about—the pollution outside of us, the spiritual pollution of this world, though for the sake of brevity let me say that dealing with BOTH sources of spiritual pollution is important—we must first deal with our hearts, the inner source of pollution, by receiving Jesus as our Savior for the forgiveness of our sins , giving Him our smokestacks of sin & selfishness and receiving from Him the transplant of His heart of holiness and purity. That is the first important and necessary step!
Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV)
Will you accept this necessary spiritual-heart transplant from Jesus? The cost is fully covered by the Health Insurance of His Wood Cross and Faith Shield!!!
Step two, therefore, in order to truly live out and obey the second half of James 1:27, is this: with the Holy Spirit’s help, we need to stop filling up our minds and hearts and beliefs with the polluted fuel of the world (anything that goes against God’s Word, which is His character!) and start filling up our minds and hearts and beliefs with the pure, clean burning fuel of the Bible.
My friends, there is a spiritual pollution in this world…both within our hearts that comes out/shows itself in rebellion against God, like exhaling carbon dioxide out of our lungs, and a pollution that comes at us from the outside, trying to get us to not only to exhale carbon dioxide but to inhale it as well…doing so would physically lead to death, and it does so spiritually as well…
Do we believe that there is a pollution in this world that does far greater damage than to a physical ozone, that does far greater damage than to soil and water and nature? Do we believe there is a pollution within this world that tilts the world toward active and specific and intentional rebellion against God, war against Him, treason against Him? Do we believe there is a spiritual pollution in this world that acts like a current that, if we do nothing, sweeps and flows us away from God and toward hostility against Him?
- It is a spiritual pollution that acts like cholesterol in our soul that prevents our hearts from beating in rhythm with Jesus,
- it is a spiritual pollution that chokes our joy and clouds our ability to see Christ like black smoke from a burning oil well,
- it is a spiritual pollution in this world that stunts our ability to grow and become who Jesus made us to be,
- it is a spiritual pollution that isn’t a beautiful painting of God’s glory but instead a grotesque spray-painting and graffiti of God’s character.
Do we believe that this spiritual pollution exists in this world and that we breathe it in deeply—by choice!—every day, that we often without realizing it put the mask over our faces so that we only breathe in its fumes?
In Mexico City, the pollution is so terrible that there are tanks set up where you can breathe pure oxygen. Jesus also offers us pure spiritual oxygen if we would simply breathe Him in deeply, if we would fix our eyes on Him and allow Him to fill us with His light and purity through His Holy Spirit and His Word…
You see, it is with our eyes that we often breathe in either the pollution of this dying, sinful world or the purity of the Living Savior…
That is why Jesus says the eyes are the lamp of the body…
Luke 11:33-36 (NIV)
33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy,[b] your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”
Jesus is revealing something powerful to us that we could never have figured out on our own! If our eyes are filled with darkness our entire bodies will be so filled. And we let in so much darkness through our eyes with the movies we watch, the t.v. shows that we religiously follow (ordering our lives around watching them!), the social media sites that we spend so much of our precious, limited lives soaking up, the magazines that we read, etc.
Some secular studies show that the more time people spend on Facebook, the higher chance they have of being depressed and feeling discontent in their lives. Wow! And yet we Christians somehow think we are immune to those Facebook fumes, breathing them in deeply for hours each day through our eyes and thinking it is a neutral or even beneficial way to spend our time.
The advertising world is a multi-billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is to get you to buy what they sell and whose sole strategy for getting you to buy what they sell is to get you to feel unhappy with and unthankful for and discontent with what God has already given you, whether body or house or car or objects or hair or talents or spouse etc. Companies hire these firms and pay them billions of dollars not because they might be effective but because they are terribly effective, not because they have a chance of getting people to be discontent but because we are guaranteed to be discontent if we watch and soak up enough of their ads.
1 Timothy 6:6-7 (NIV):
“But godliness with contentment is great gain.
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
It is great gain to have our character match up more and more with Jesus’ character (godliness) and to have contentment with who we are in Christ and what we have been given from Christ! This is great gain!
I wonder if the opposite is also true: “ungodliness with discontentment is great loss.” This great loss is exactly what we get over time as we fill our minds with the spiritual pollution of this world through hours and hours each week of watching t.v. & movies, immersing ourselves in social media, and barely spending minutes and minutes with Jesus in silence, stillness, and Scripture.
Often without realizing it we nurse from the tailpipe, from the exhaust, of this sinful world. No wonder so few Christians are growing, no wonder so many Christians are sick, no wonder so many Christians are dizzy and light-headed and discontent and chasing what Madison Avenue offers us…
Why does the devil focus on t.v., movies, music and the internet? Because that’s where we spend the majority of our time! He sets up his pollution-pots all over the information superhighway because we are like internet over-the-road truckers—we’re always driving there, mile after drowsy mile! The devil fills up these areas with millions of landmines and we think we can dance through them unhurt though we have blindfolds and clown shoes on! We think we can live in this polluted land for dozens of hours per week and not be polluted, and this just shows how deep the disease has gotten…we are numb to the symptoms and oblivious to the causes.
In the 1920s—50s, the greatest trick of the tobacco industry wasn’t adding addictive chemicals to cigarettes or getting people to smoke; it was convincing people that smoking cigarettes actually improved their health…there were many doctors who used to prescribe cigarettes to patients for better health!
This is what the devil has done to us—what we have allowed him to do to us—about the vast majority of t.v. shows, commercials, the internet, social media, movies, magazines, and music that we consume each week. We think they make us healthy when the opposite is tragically true…
Like the famous illustration: how do you boil a frog? Not by throwing him in a pot of boiling water—the frog will just jump out! But you put him in a pot of luke-warm water and slowly heat it up. He doesn’t even realize he is being cooked that way. And we are being cooked, brothers and sisters…or really, we are being polluted…
And that is how the devil uses the majority of t.v., movies, social media, music, magazines and books nowadays. We are taught through much of this content that sin isn’t a big deal, that it is not bad and even good, that what the Bible clearly calls sin is to be celebrated! We have become desensitized to sin and pollution like the frog in the slowly heated water. It is the utter height—or depth—of our pollution when we call sin good and when we call the Bible—or just the parts that we don’t like—bad! We didn’t change overnight but were polluted slowly over time…the devil uses images, pictures, commercials, shows, movies, etc. because images—what we see—are very powerful.
We see situations in movies or t.v. shows–or even in real life!–where a person is clearly sinning and there don’t seem to be very many consequences at all, or if there are the results are positive and good! This teaches us that sin is not a big deal, or even not sin at all! We are disciples of the world because we spend so much time with the world, learning its ways; we are not disciples of Jesus because we spend so little time with Him, learning His ways…
The devil knows the power of these images over time, and remember this is what he did back at the beginning to Eve in the garden of Eden. Genesis says that after the devil tempted Eve, she looked at the fruit, and seeing that it was pleasing to the eyes, she took some and ate it. And so here we all are in this mess all these years later! The devil appealed to Eve’s eyes, and she trusted her eyes over what God had clearly told her (His Word!). The devil continues this potent attack today.
Images are powerful—this is why God says in the second commandment not make any images to worship, even of the LORD! Images have power to lead us astray, because what we look at with our eyes enters our minds, and our minds are directly connected to our actions. That is why Philippians 2 tells us to have the same attitude as that of Jesus, because if we have His mind/attitude we will eventually have His actions; that is why God tells us through Paul (Romans 12) to be transformed by the renewing, the transformation, the cleansing, the un-polluting of our minds—and in order to do this we need to cleanse what we look at…this is why Hebrews says to fix our eyes on Jesus!!! See how this is all so beautifully and expertly connected in the Bible!?
I learned to be discontented with my body, with my muscles (or lack of muscles!). I wasn’t born discontented—I learned it! Pictures of action figure toys prove this–in the 60s, the toys were slightly muscular. Now, many action figure toys are comically muscular. Growing up, as I saw pictures of bodybuilders and other guys in movies, t.v. shows and commercials, and on the covers of magazines, as various shows subtly taught that to be a man and to be cool and to be happy is to look like these guys, I began to look at my very normal body and be dissatisfied—even disgusted!—with my appearance! What a slick trick!!! But then the other extreme is also just as dangerous (though I probably won’t ever have to worry about this): it’s dedicating our lives and time and money and energy to getting our bodies to look like those on the covers of magazines and trying to find our satisfaction and pleasure in our appearance instead of the character of Jesus…
1 John 2:15-17:
On Not Loving the World
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
We are so concerned with the pollution of the physical earth…and within reason, we should be concerned with this! But we are so concerned with the pollution of the physical earth, though the physical earth is only temporary, and we are so un-concerned with the spiritual pollution that we allow in our souls, which will last forever…
You might say, “Oh come on. It’s just a t.v. show, it’s just an R-rated comedy, it’s just a song, it’s just a magazine! It’s harmless! I don’t see anything wrong with it!”
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas…that kills. We put detectors in our houses that give off an ear-splitting ring when the slightest whiff is detected which our noses and eyes are totally blind to. No one calls us legalistic against poison when we dutifully set up these alarms–they call us wise! But we think we are legalistic when the Holy Spirit & Bible guide us to detect and depart from the spiritual poison of this world…
The spiritual pollution of this world, without the alarm of the Bible and the Holy Spirit, is also often odorless and colorless and no less deadly to our souls. We not only do not turn on the alarms but we keep it locked in the box and on the shelf. “This Book will keep you from sin (pollution!) or sin (pollution!) will keep you from this Book” (D.L. Moody). With us rarely reading and living our the Bible and with us breathing deeply from the polluted tail/exhaust pipe of this sinful world for hours and hours per day, it is no wonder that many of our faith in Christ is dead or in a coma, it is no wonder that we are on spiritual life-support…we have forgotten or overlooked or ignored the second half of James 1:27 and are thoroughly polluted by the spiritual carbon monoxide of this world.
Paul—and many in the early Church—suffered like few Christians have ever suffered—but he had joy from his closeness to Christ! But our fuel-injectors are so clogged with the pollution of this world that our joy comes in spurts, the Holy Spirit flows through us in starts and stops because we are caked with the grime of this sinful world, impurities that we have willingly placed into our fuel tank every day for decades, mainly through our eyes…this is what I mean…
We spiritually we gorge on the pollution of this world and wonder why it is difficult for us to “taste and see that the LORD is good.” Our spiritual stomachs and tastebuds have been polluted over decades and decades with a diet of the candy of this sinful world…we feel full and happy when we are sick and malnourished; we think the Bible is boring when it is not and feel that Jesus is far when He is not; we are simply too polluted to taste Him as He truly is—the Bread of life, offering us the living waters of the Holy Spirit…but we want the spiritual soda of this world…Jesus invites us onto the mountain top with Him and we settle for Mountain Dew in the valley of the shadow of death…
Loved ones, do you see the serious consequences we face because we have focused only on doing loving actions toward others (the first half of James 1:27) and have not also focused on staying unpolluted by the world (the second half of James 1:27)? Look at how much of Jesus we are missing out on…look how close to Christ the early Church was in the Book of Acts–and look at all the Holy Spirit did through them!–and look at the 21st century American Church and see how different most of us are from our spiritual ancestors…
How do we have so much time for all this entertainment anyways? Isn’t being Jesus’ witnesses to the very ends of the earth enough to fill up the schedules of our lives? Or perhaps we have gotten distracted from our purpose of being alive on earth…
As I close, some of us are thinking—as I have thought!—I’m too out of shape…the Holy Spirit is helping me to realize how polluted and unhealthy I am spiritually…but it’s too late, the damage done is too great….
NEVER! Jesus is the Great Physician! It’s never too late with King Jesus! Repent! Apologize to Him! Ask Him to help you! Ask Him to take out the t.v. tube that has been attached to your vein for so long and to hook you up with His spiritual i.v. of the Holy Spirit and the Bible!
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness [pollution]”! (1 John 1:9).
Then ask the Holy Spirit to help you lower the quantity of your screen time (the less the better!) and change how you determine the quality of your screen time—let the Bible tell you what is healthy to watch and what isn’t!!!!
My friends, God brings up this command of avoiding spiritual pollution not to make us feel bad but to help us realize how clean He wants to make us! We don’t have to stay polluted, though we all are currently! There is a cure, there is hope!!!
Romans 12:2 NIV:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing [the cleansing, the un-polluting!]
of your mind.
Hebrews 10:19-23 NIV:
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water
[Jesus wants to un-pollute both our minds/hearts/consciences and our bodies!].
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
This is what Jesus wants to do for you, from the inside out—make us clean, un-polluted, make us holy like Him…will you let Him? This is pure and faultless religion…let’s bend our knees in repentance, not roll our eyes in indifference…