If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27)
The word unstained stood out to me. How could something be unstained? As in, without stain, in its purest state, untainted – dare I say, perfect? I know people who explain it by (1) trying to have as little contact with the world as possible. But if you live in the world, you are effected but it, and not every influence is bad. After all, we encourage each other to grow in our faith, learn truth, and cultivate lives of integrity. Sometimes it is actually the tough challenges we face that grow us the most significantly.
Others explain unstained and even perfection by (2) narrowing the definition. If we build our own definition of it, we can place ourselves right in the middle of what we most highly value, which ends up becoming a form of pride. I attended a church for a while that touted that we were perfect even while on this earth, that we weren’t sinning if we weren’t breaking the ten “biggie” commandments, that as long as we were trying, we were perfect by the carefully-crafted definition. Honestly? Many of the people who attended that church fell away from faith hard at some point when they finally admitted they couldn’t live up to even their own definitions of perfection. It’s sad to watch when that happens, because they struggle with the same things others struggle with, but they haven’t developed healthy coping strategies to live an authentic faith in a messed-up world.
So, what does it mean to live unstained by the world?
Here’s my current train of thoughts:
A lot of dirt and junk we encounter doesn’t stain us. Consider the process of laundering clothes or cleaning house. Even think about the healing process of our bodies. Oh, we’re impacted by the dirt and junk we encounter. We’re even scarred by it at times. But burdened with stains? It’s possible, but it’s also possible that we trust the best cleaner-upper of them all. I don’t completely understand how God cleans me up much of the time. I know I give him a lot to work with and there’s always something to clean up in me. But permanently stained? Or just permanently in progress and constantly purposed?
Some things are harder to clean than others. Some things are easily washed away. Some things need to soak for a long time.
I can trust God through it all.
So can you.