Isaiah 58:1-4 and The Insufficiency of Religious Actions

It's not enough to know the actions, words, or postures of religious life.

It’s not enough to know the actions, words, or postures of religious life.

There are plenty of religious people in the world, people who know what to do and what to say in a religious setting. They understand the rites and ceremonies, and they even know and avoid the taboos of religious folks. Unfortunately, that is as far as it ever gets for people like this. They do not go deeper in their faith because they have never seen God act in a mighty way. Their lament may be just the same as this one in Isaiah:

Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
    raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
    desiring knowledge of my ways
    like a nation that acted righteously,
    that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
    wanting to be close to God.
“Why do we fast and you don’t see;
    why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
    and oppress all your workers.
You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
    you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
    if you want to make your voice heard on high.

This could be paraphrased as follows, “God, haven’t we done everything you asked of us? Why do you not hear our prayers and answer us?” The key difference in whether or not God would answer is in motivation.

I have seen very religious people keep to the strictest interpretation of their faith, attend all the services in which they are supposed to participate, follow all the guidelines they are supposed to follow, and for however long that took, act relieved that they could get on with their everyday lives after it was over. The worship of God was a burden to them, and then they wondered why God’s transforming grace was not evident in their lives.

If we go through the motions simply because we feel we have a sense of religious duty, and then hurry on to what we wanted to do in life, those religious actions are not enough. God gave his rituals, his laws, his services, to help us step away from the everyday life and into the realm of his gracious working. If we observe all that God has called us to do with an open heart full of love for the One in whose presence we have come, our attitudes will be changed, our lives will be transformed, and we will see the power of God unleashed in our lives and the lives of those around us.

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