In reviewing a chapter of the book I am writing, a friend mentioned that something I said reminded her of Isaiah 58. I was discussing the futility of earning God’s favor through asceticism (severe self-discipline) and it made her think of what God told Israel. Here’s what He said almost three thousand years ago:
“They seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the defenseless, to shield him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and
you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.
…for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
(Isaiah 58 ESV, mostly)
WOW. THAT IS SO GOOD.
God is good — and He doesn’t change. He’s been trying to tell us all along that he is not interested in treating our relationship with Him like a monetary exchange. He does not need us to pay Him off with bribes and He does not respond to our acts as though He is required to perform.
The Gospel — the good news — is that God sent His Son to pay the ultimate price for us so that we could be free again. He bought us out of the slavery of sin and judgment and adopted us as heirs. And He isn’t asking us to pay Him back. The price is too high. We can never accomplish it.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
So what does God really want? He asks us to humble ourselves and to accept that freedom — and then boldly mount up and follow Him.
There are adventures to accomplish. Let’s go!