"If anyone thinks himself to be religious and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless." (James 1:26)
The book of James is painfully practical.
The Apostle has a unique way of dealing with those issues which touch the nerve-endings of everyday life.
In the larger context of this verse we read, "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself."
He is dealing with a people who held to the belief Christianity is no more than the mental assent to a few gospel facts coupled with some outward works that would give a degree of credibility to one’s profession.
There are multitudes who hold to that belief and practice.
They have nodded their head to a truncated form of the gospel and have assumed an outward form of religion.
Paul described them when he wrote his second letter to Timothy, ".. holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power"
The Apostle James makes it clear true saving faith consists in something more than mere mental assent coupled with religious activity.
He does this by using the tongue as an example.
He describes a person who has an unbridled tongue, a deceived heart and a worthless religion.
They all go together.
The person who has an unbridled tongue is deceived as to the true state of his soul.
Such a person does not see what the tongue has to do with religion.
He is totally unaware his unbridled tongue is evidence of a deceived heart.
He is totally unaware that his religion is worthless.
This man’s religion is not just a bit deficient or lacking, it is worthless.
The word worthless literally means, a sham, empty, fake.
When the Apostle uses the word "unbridled," he is not describing someone who is very talkative, but rather someone who is guilty of what we might call a sinful use of the tongue.
A sinful use of the tongue would include such things as cursing, unwarranted anger, backbiting, slander and gossip.
A person whose speech is characterized by one or more of these qualities is living under the dominion of sin.
True saving religion and the dominion of sin are contradictory.
Christ came to save His people from their sins.
From the guilt of sin, from the power of sin and one day from the very presence of sin.
Unless there is some tangible evidence that one is being saved from the power of sin in his daily life, he has reason to doubt the validity of his religion.
There are three vital truths which this verse teaches.
(1) It is possible to make a response to the gospel which is less than a saving response.
(2) It is possible to be deceived as to the state of one’s soul.
(3) When there has been a saving work of grace, it will not only be evidenced in one’s conduct but also in his speech.
It is impossible to divorce internal reality from external activity.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (II Corinthians 5:17)