While useless religion has clear characteristics, so does pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father. It encompasses visiting the most vulnerable of society and keeping oneself “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). This verse took on flesh and walked among humanity in the life of Jesus. Jesus visited and ministered to the most vulnerable and also maintained a perfect adherence to righteous living.
The Greek word for “visited” in this verse is not a casual meeting of two parties. Throughout its usage in the New Testament, the word emphasizes a visiting for the benefit of someone, to help, minister to, or redeem them (Matt. 25:36; Luke 1:68; 7:16; Acts 15:36; Heb. 2:6). Jesus certainly visited humanity when He walked the earth, and He continues to visit the hearts of His children. Jesus visited people in their physical needs, often feeding them miraculously or healing them of illness or ailment (Matt. 14:13–21; Mark 1:32–34). He visited people in their spiritual needs, teaching them the truth of God and Himself as the Messiah (Matthew 5, 6; John 3:1–21). He even ministered to those in need of emotional healing, bypassing cultural restrictions in order to speak a word of encouragement to an aching soul (John 4, 8). Jesus met people where they were and ministered to them, even the neediest and most ignored of society (Luke 5:12, 13).
It’s interesting how the religious leaders interpreted Jesus’ proximity with the world. They labeled Him a drunkard and a glutton, and they complained about His seemingly relaxed approach to accepting sinners (Matt. 11:19; Luke 15:1, 2). Jesus lived a perfect life, which means He also kept Himself unspotted from the world in all ways (1 Peter 2:21, 22). The religious leaders’ reaction to His proximity, then, reveals more about themselves than about Jesus. They had a faulty understanding of what pure religion looked like.
Jesus’s life proves that ministering to the world and being unspotted from the world are not two dichotomous options: either help people (and get dirty) or be clean (and don’t help anyone). When viewed through this faulty paradigm, both extreme options either miss the heart or the power of the gospel. Emphasizing outward adherence has its place, but an untransformed life is useless. Emphasizing inward transformation has its place, but an unlived life is not what God asks for. Instead, communion with God leads to transformation, and this transformation leads to a life of ministry.