A ‘Can’t Do’ Verse?

Posted on May 3, 2019


By David Ettinger

No Easy Task
God’s commandments are meant to be obeyed; after all, they are commandments, not suggestions. Some commandments are less difficult, for instance, those dealing with not using foul language (Ephesians 5:4) and being thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Others are more difficult, such as not being anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6) and valuing others above yourself (Philippians 2:3-4).

And then there is one which appears to me as something human beings simply can’t do. We find it in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” It is the second one I wonder about – “keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Called to Be Unpolluted
How can this be? You live in the world. Everywhere you turn there is rebellion and wickedness. How do you escape it? Even if you run the other way, the world’s pollution pursues and snatches you. Even if you don’t want to be polluted, your mere existence in this fallen world plunges you into the pollution. In fact, to rid yourself of all pollution, you would, as the Apostle Paul says, “have to leave this world” (1 Corinthians 5:10). So what is James talking about?


James is talking about the character of the Christian. The phrase “from being polluted” is a translation from the Greek word aspilion, which means “spotless.” Clearly, so long as you exist in the flesh, you cannot live a spotless (sinless) life. Rather, you can strive to be an individual of character and grace. How do you do this? Another word for “spotless” is “pure.” You are to seek a life of purity; anything pure cannot house pollution.

Living an unpolluted, or spotless, life involves committing every area of your life to holiness. One key to doing this is keeping out of your life those things which cause you to sin. Make an inventory of your life and consider the movies and TV shows you watch. Do they reflect unbiblical morals and concepts? If so, it is polluting your life.

What about your thought life; are you indulging unclean thoughts? What about what you view on the Internet? What about your treatment of others? Do all of these conform to God’s Word (see James 1:21)? If so, good; if not, it is pollution and you need to be rid of it.


A ‘Can’t Do’ Verse?
It is impossible not to be polluted by this world. Why then, would God command you not to be polluted? I believe this command falls into the same category as some of the difficult commands mentioned above, and to Jesus’ command: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

In reality, your flesh will not allow you to be perfect, or sinless. Your flesh will not allow you to “not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). Your flesh will not allow you to “value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Your flesh will not allow you to keep “from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

However, through the Holy Spirit living within you, you can strive for these things. You can commit yourself to His care and with His enabling, can behave in a manner which will “glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

So, is James 1:27 a “can’t do” Bible verse? Can you really live in this world without being polluted to one degree or another? No. However, you can do everything in your power to do so; you can strive for perfection and spotlessness at every turn.

You can seek to honor God in all things and move closer to a more righteous and “unpolluted” way of living. In the doing, you will indeed glorify your heavenly Father!