Our church is studying the book of James this summer on Sunday mornings. In studying the book we have found that it is written to Christians who struggle with double-mindedness and self-deception. Read if for yourself in James 1. This Sunday I preached a message titled “How to Stop Faking Religion” from James 1:26-27. We learned what James considered to be worthless religion and what James considered pure and undefiled religion. You can watch the sermon here.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 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. 
Religion in the James 1 context is devotion to God as exhibited by external, observable qualities of the life of faith in Christ. The problem in the first century was this external quality could be faked. The problem in the 21st century is this external, observable quality can be faked. People who fake “religion” in the positive sense as used in James 1:26-27 are self-deceived and idolatrous. When we fake religion we worship ourselves or the perception of others about who we are “religiously” and we tragically miss the freedom of the gospel. The only pure and undefiled religion is the kind that flows from the heart of a person who loves God and loves people. So what do you do if you are a believer and you have been faking your religion or practicing religion that is “worthless”? Since pure religion stems from the heart we must go to God for important heart work when we as Christian’s struggle with self-deception and a “faked” or “worthless” religion. I use Psalm 139:23-24 as a prayer pattern for this important heart work.
Let’s try it. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. Find a quiet place alone. Grab your Bible, and something to write with (pen, journal, computer, iPad). Read Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my anxious thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way every lasting.” -Psalm 139:23-24
1. Beg God to search your heart and try you.
Ask God to search every thought and motive of your heart. This might feel a little scary but remember if you are a Christian, you are talking to your Father. You are his son or daughter according to the Bible. He is glad you are coming to him. You can trust him. Lay your heart bare before him. Ask him to sift you and refine you according to his design for your life. Verbalize to God your desire to be pure and holy and right with him, not to earn his love because in Christ you have it. Not to earn your salvation because in Christ you have it. Only because you love him and you want to live a life of faith and love and devotion to him. Only because you don’t want to be a Christian who has falling into self-deception, double-mindedness (loving God and loving sin and self at the same time), and worthless, faked religion or devotion to God. Give him permission to have his way with you.
2. Ask God to identify what grieves him about you. (Ephesians 4:25-5:20)
Even though as Christians we are saved and set free from sin and the eternal penalty of sin, we are still wrestling with our flesh and the temptation to sin. It is clear from the Scripture that believers can become stained with sin in their double-mindedness and self-deception and grieve God. Ask your Father what sin in your life grieves him. Allow him to speak to you. I like to use Ephesians 4:25-5:20 as a passage to pray through at this point. I ask God to reveal, in this list of grievous sin, how I am grieving him. As he reveals these things, write them down. Write all of them whether it is 2 things or 50 things. God will be faithful to reveal your sin. Take a few minutes and contemplate the list. Grieve over what grieves the Father and then… repent and receive his forgiveness and grace. Take time to repent for every grievous sin on your list. Repent specifically. Then embrace the gift of Christ. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:8-9 Wad up that list and throw it away as a symbol of turning away from your sin and toward Christ in love and devotion.
3. Trust God to lead you in a better way of living your faith. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Finally, trust and believe God to lead you in a better way of living your faith. When we struggle with self-deception and worthless religion we also begin to believe that God is less than capable to lead us in a better way of living today. Remember, Jesus came that we might have abundant life according to John 10:10. You trust him for a future in heaven. You can trust him for an abundant life with him today. Proverbs says it this way, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path’s straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6
He is the Good Shepherd and he knows the way. He will make your paths straight. Trust him. If you want to overcome self-deception, double-mindedness, and fake religion, go to God for some heart work. He will give you renewal and a singular mindset and a content soul. Only then will the external, observable evidence of your life in Christ be authentic, un-faked, and bubbling over from the inside out.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jas 1:26–27). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.