True Spirituality

Isaiah 58:1-14

Attempts to manipulate God nothing new. Whether said aloud or kept hidden in one’s thoughts, people the world over down through centuries have convinced themselves of something: if you or I claim something God has promised in the Bible, God is obligated to respond. In our day, goes by various names: Word-Faith Movement, prosperity gospel, “name it and claim it”. In Jesus’ day, claim was “We’re Abraham’s descendants” (John 8:33ff); God has to keep promises to us. Those presented by Isaiah in our text had whiny irritated tone to voice, “we’re following all the rules, how come God isn’t paying attention?”

Now, God could have, like many parents, simply said “I already told you how it works, go read it again.” Graciously he didn’t do that, he addressed the issue repeatedly so in our day we truly are without excuse. Prophet looked into the future to a time when fasting was practiced all the time, more than the one time each year when God required it (Day of Atonement, Lev. 16:29-31; Num. 29:7). Fasting had become the badge of spirituality, an issue Jesus addressed more than once during his ministry.

Our culture has its badges, too: WWJD bracelets, cross necklaces, Christianese bumper stickers and tattoos, fish on Fridays and no chocolate for Lent. Nothing inherently wrong with any of those, but not where God looks first to evaluate true spirituality. People were right, God had not responded favorably to their spiritual exercises; sent his mouthpiece, the prophet Isaiah, to help them understand what was up, what needed to change.

I. Confrontation

A. charges and counter-charges

1. God sends a messenger v.1

a. confronts the people thru the prophet

i) Don’t hold anything back

ii) Speak up so they’ll be sure to hear and have no excuses

iii) God’s people are in rebellion, revolting against Him

iv) God has withheld His favor, people need to know why

2. The people answer God back v.3a

a. thru their questions

i) We’re following the rules, You’re not listening. WHY? We’re doing what You asked, You don’t notice. WHY?

ii) If it’s not going to work, what is the point?

b. hint of what is really going on

i) motivation??? Following the rules, expecting a payoff in return.


A. Pious attitudes v.2 (these appear to be good things)

1. seek knowledge, insight

a) prayer & personal devotions / ladies’/mens’ Bible study

2. delight in knowing God’s commands & expectations

a) sword drills / Bible memorization contests / killer at Bible Trivia

3. get regular spiritual check-ups

a) check in with pastor or elders: Are we doing this right?

4. faithful at corporate worship

a) enjoy prayer and praise

always have prayer requests, especially the spiritual kind / sing loudly, perhaps clap, get that big toe going

5. practice all the rituals – following the recipe for medal-winning spirituality

a) praying the prayer of Jabez / in 40 days my life will be purpose-driven

b) doing the “9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life”

B. Perverse behaviors v.3b-5

1. satisfy self

a) enjoy the day off while the help slave away / exploit the employees

2. quarrel and fight with others

3. treat God like a vending machine – put in money, push the button, get the candy – manipulation

4. exhibit pride by drawing attention to humility

C. Conflict / discord v.6a

1. B doesn’t fit A – something is at variance with itself (R. Nixon) – perverse behaviors don’t fit pious attitudes – music of life being played in two different keys

2. practice is inconsistent with piety – spiritual life all about others, secular life all about self; attempting to use God’s agenda to promote personal well-being

3. piety not given substance by behavioral follow-thru

4. Root cause – Bible is disconnected from behavior

a) Biblical principles learned don’t govern daily habits

b) separation of religious observance and cultural behaviors

c) people are disconnected from God – not thinking, choosing, behaving like God

III. Reconnection

A. If your piety is real – if Bible and behavior are connected – if you are connected to God, then… it will show as you

1. Engage the culture v.6b, 9b

a) overcome oppression: get involved within neighborhood / sphere of influence (including voting booth) to bring about change

moral – welfare ideological – education economic – gov’t fiscal policy judicial – political activism, legislation from the Bench

b) stop abuse: don’t do it yourself, to extent you are able don’t allow others to practice

showing contempt / hurtful speech

attacking person instead of criticizing behavior / gossip

2. Make a difference v.8, 10a

a) on an individual level

b) where they live, where you live

food, shelter, clothing for truly needy / encouragement for the discouraged / changing policy is great, but meantime…

c) Live daily by God’s principles of love, mercy, kindness, generosity

all the things you’ve heard about in Sunday School, worship, etc.

3. True spirituality encompasses all of life

a) what you do on Sunday AND what you do in your devotional life Monday through Saturday

b) how you relate to God and others both inside and outside the “family”

IV. Bottom Line

A. Pleasing God begins with repentance – change of mind followed by change of action: turn from, turn to

1. Delight in the Sabbath v.13

a) change how you think about the day – both a starting place (how to show true repentance) and example (how to treat all God’s law)

not the day for gratifying self – it’s my day, I’m (not) doing that

the day belongs to God / He made it for our benefit / He intends it to be a delight for us

Since He made it, gave it to us, He defines its use Mark 2:27-28

honor it, follow His way, seek His pleasure

2. Experience the delight of His presence v8-9a, 10b-12, 14

a) gloom and doom will end (8a, 10b)

b) quick restoration – healing… speedily (8b)

c) righteousness will be a way of Life (8c)

d) will be engaged/connected with God again

our rear guard – defends, carries stragglers (8d)

answer our prayer (9a)

manifest His closeness – Look! I’m right here! (9a)

provide continuous daily guidance (11a)

satisfy our desires (11b)

fill our needs to overflowing (11b)

if you pour yourself out (10a)…you will be like… a spring… whose waters don’t fail (11b)

blessed with abundance – a watered garden – and be a blessing to others (11b-12)

find our delight in God (14a)

enjoy spiritual plenty (14b)

have a guaranteed inheritance (14c)

So what is it that God expects of His children? He fully expects that there will be an intimate connection between what we believe and how we behave; that there will be an intimate connection between God and His people; that we will treat Biblical principles as more than knick-knacks on the shelf to be dusted off periodically; that those principles will be the basis of our every choice and every action every moment of every day. The way to God’s blessing is to do things His way. God gives a good beginning place to show our devotion to him: follow God’s example in keeping his day holy; treat it as the delight, the blessing he intends it to be for us.

The arrival of that day should be greeted by us with holy joy: we should say, “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psa. 118:24) If we could suppose an angel sent down to this lower world to labour in some common occupation, and permitted every seventh day to return to his heavenly abodes, and spend that day in the employments suited to his taste, with what delight would he look forward to the stated returns of that day! So should it be with us. Charles Simeon


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