The second part of James’ definition of pure and undefiled religion is more arduous than the first: keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. “The world” is a frequent New Testament subject. Don’t conform to the world (Romans 12:2), love the world (I John 2:15), or be captive to the world’s forces (Colossians 2:8). Friendship with the world means enmity with God. (James 4:4) The world’s god is blinding. (II Corinthians 4:4) Pride in possessions comes from the world. (I John 2:16) Despite these admonitions, it’s easy to give the predicament of being sucked into the world short shrift.
The world for some of us gets pretty comfortable. Over time, our thinking can be shaped by the world, our ethics changed by the world, our faith weakened by the world, our conscience twisted by the world. We can begin to believe that being part of the world is no big deal.
God created the earth, but the world of which we are warned is a creation of his enemy. We are children of God, says I John 5:19 (NIV), but the world is “under the control of the evil one.” When Jesus prayed for the disciples he was leaving behind in John 17:14-15, he asked God not to take them out of the world but to “protect them from the evil one.” The world’s influence causes some bad stuff like murder, sexual immorality, and debauchery. “Whew,” we say. But wait. It also causes envy, greed, strife, deceit, gossiping, insolence, arrogance, hatred, discord, dissensions, factions, jealously, anger, and selfishness. (Romans 1:25-32; Galatians 5:19-21)
How in the world do we remain apart from the world and escape its power? If we care for widows, orphans, foreigners, the poor, hungry, and oppressed, we just may not have enough time for the world. We’ll be too busy practicing pure and undefiled religion.