“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
James 1:27 ESV
The uniform my daughter wore in a recent tournament included a white shirt. The only thing not white about the shirt was the patch sewed on the sleeve; every other inch of that shirt was beautifully white when she first put it on.
And then she played several hours of softball….
Beautifully white is NOT how I’d describe that shirt now. It has been stained by the sweat and dirt that often accompanies summertime ballgames.
Now I am sure we all agree that stains are extremely frustrating. Stains can ruin clothes, furniture, floors, and so much more. If stains remain in conspicuous areas, they become perpetual reminders of what should not have been. We have a light green stain on our ceiling from the time the supposedly impenetrable wubble ball exploded. We have another stain on that same ceiling from the time the red sticky hand was left up there for hours on end. We have a slime stain on our carpet after an incident in the art room. We have nail polish stains in the laundry room from those times the nail polish didn’t make it onto the actual nail. We have stains on our kitchen floor where the old adhesive started seeping through. And don’t get me started on the innumerable amount of shirts and pants that have been soiled by ketchup, grease, dirt, sweat, and blood over the years.
Stains are annoying to say the least. Yet there is one thing I have learned about stains: Most stains are easily removed if you catch them right away. For instance, soon after we moved into our new house, a child had a nosebleed on our white carpet. Cold water and compression made it disappear. While painting my kids’ rooms, I dripped some paint on the molding; a quick wipe with a damp cloth erased the mistake. We have had coffee spills, soda spills, tea spills, you-name-it spills at our house, but most of the time each accidental spot didn’t create a long-term stain because we caught it quickly enough to treat it before the stain set in.
Before the stain set in.
This concept is the key to keeping laundry clean, our house is clean, our cars clean, and as God reminded me through the above verse, it is also the key to keeping our hearts clean as well.
In the same way spills become stains when we allow them to sit too long, mistakes and mindsets become stains if we don’t address them right away. When James encourages us to remain unstained from the world, he is not saying we are never going to make mistakes. He’s not saying that no one is ever going to tempt us to do something against God’s will. Rather, he’s reminding us that as children of God and as doers of His word we must remain active in seeking God’s will and in not allowing stains to set in.
This world is not a positive influence. (Shocker, I know.) It encourages tolerance, favoritism, selfishness, and a whatever-feels-good-must-be-right mentality. Those of us who attempt to stand up for God’s standard of right and wrong are often looked down upon and ridiculed. We are like a toddler wearing a white shirt while eating spaghetti: we are bombarded with temptations to stray from God’s best in both attitude and action.
But we don’t have to let those attitudes and actions set in.
I repeat: we don’t have to let the ways of the world set in. We simply must remain diligent and steadfast in our relationship with the Lord. How do we do this? By taking heed according to God’s Word. By asking God to give us the eyes to recognize the spots along with the wisdom and willingness to remove them.
Yet let me say this again: unstained does not mean perfect. None of us is perfect. None of us could ever fulfill God‘s standard of holiness apart from Jesus. When James tells us to keep unstained from the world, he’s not saying we will never sin. He is not saying we will never be tempted. Rather, he is reminding us to not allow those temptations and those sins to set in and defile our relationship with our Lord. We are to remain steadfast in recognizing the spots and treating them before they become embedded. We are to be quick to repent—quick to confess our sins before the only One able to wipe them away.
So what happens when God shows us a stain we’ve allowed to set in—a mindset, attitude, or action that eluded detection until it was well embedded in the fabric our life? Thankfully, the One who has shown us the stain is the very One with the power to remove it. God is the ultimate stain remover. No matter the stain and no matter how long it’s been there, when we confess our sins to Him, he removes them (1 John 1:9). He makes our sins as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). He removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He clothes us in robes of righteousness–clean robes without blemish or stain (Isaiah 61:10).
Therefore, I encourage you in this way today: Have you been mistreated? Have you been the victim of favoritism? Don’t allow bitterness and hatred to set in. Rinse off that spot with God’s mercy and grace knowing His favor lasts for a lifetime (Psalm 30:5). Has someone disappointed you? Don’t allow discouragement and mistrust to set in. Set your mind not on the things of this earth but rather on the One who made heaven and earth. Trust in His sovereignty knowing His plans for you are more than you could ever hope or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Did you do or say something inappropriate and against God’s will? Did you mess up? Don’t let that mistake set in. Be quick to confess knowing He promises to cleanse you.
Take to heart today what James says in the above verse. Be diligent to keep yourself unstained from the world. Guard your heart. Guard your mind. Guard your lips. Pray Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” And if He shows you a spot that is about to set in or has set in, be quick to repent. Be quick to turn around and keep moving forward in the direction of God’s will. He will cleanse you. He will set you free. He will keep those stains from setting in. For He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).