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James 1:26

ESV If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
NIV Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
NASB If anyone thinks himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
CSB If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.
NLT If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.
KJV If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.

What does James 1:26 mean?

In the previous verses, James emphasized that those who trust God actually do what His Word says they should do. More specifically, they look into the perfect law that gives freedom and act on it. In verse 26, James gets specific about what it means to obey this freedom-giving law. James insists that we reveal the character of our religion in three areas.

First, nobody should think of himself as a religious person if he doesn't keep a bridle or tight rein on his tongue. That is, if we cannot control the words that come out of our mouths, we are lying to ourselves about being religious people. This closely relates to James' prior comments on anger (James 1:19–20), in that self-control is key to the Christian life (2 Peter 1:5–6; Galatians 5:22–23).

So is it a worthy goal to be "religious"? Most Christians avoid that word. In the modern world, the word "religion" tends to be associated with keeping of rituals or rules in hopes of earning some divine favor. Those who are saved by faith in Christ understand that they have already received God's favor. We seek to use His power in us to live as Jesus would, to make good choices in response to the grace He has already given to us. In other words, while Christians tend to recoil at the modern meaning of the term "religion," we certainly embrace the concept James is speaking of in these verses.

It should be noted, as well, that later in this letter, James will say that no human being is capable of perfectly taming the tongue (James 3:7). If it's not possible for us to achieve that standard, does James mean for us to spend our lives in pursuit of impossible religious perfection? It will soon become clear that he does not. Instead, he will encourage us to continue to act as if we believe God, to show with our choices that we are trusting our Father.

Still, as we see in the next verse, "religion" can be a good thing before God if it is focused on the correct things.
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