"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless" (James 1:26).
In verse 22 James talked about the delusion of hearing the Word without obeying it. Here he talks about the deception of external religious activity without internal purity of heart.
That's a common deception. Many people confuse love of religious activity with love for God. They may go through the mechanics of reading the Bible, attending church, praying, giving money, or singing songs, but in reality their hearts are far from God. That kind of deception can be very subtle. That's why James disregards mere claims to Christianity and confronts our motives and obedience to the Word. Those are the acid tests!
James was selective in the word he used for "religious." Rather than using the common Greek word that speaks of internal godliness, he chose a word that refers to external religious trappings, ceremonies, and rituals– things that are useless for true spirituality.
He focuses on the tongue as a test of true religion because the tongue is a window to the heart. As Jesus said, "The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart" (Matt. 12:34). Corrupt speech betrays an unregenerate heart; righteous speech demonstrates a transformed heart. It doesn't matter how evangelical or biblical your theology is, if you can't control your tongue, your religion is useless!
You can learn much about a person's character if you listen long enough to what he says. In the same way, others learn much about you as they listen to what you say. Do your words reveal a pure heart? Remember Paul's admonition to "let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29). Make that your goal each day so you can know the blessing and grace of disciplined speech!