Saturday, August 11, 2012

True Religion Is Both Inward and Outward

15 From now on, when you pray with your hands stretched out to heaven, I won’t look or listen. Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear, for your hands are those of murderers; they are covered with the blood of your innocent victims. 16 "Oh, wash yourselves! Be clean! Let me no longer see you doing all these wicked things; quit your evil ways. 17 Learn to do good, to be fair and to help the poor, the fatherless, and widows. 18 "Come, let’s talk this over!" says the Lord; "no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool! 19 If you will only let me help you, if you will only obey, then I will make you rich! 20 But if you keep on turning your backs and refusing to listen to me, you will be killed by your enemies; I, the Lord, have spoken." Isaiah 1:15-20 (The Living Bible).

The prophet Isaiah preached to an Israel that appeared to be religious people. They prayed, attended religious feasts, fasted, and offered sacrifices to God. These religious acts were prescribed by God and very important to Him. Yet, these same people perverted justice, oppressed the poor, turned from God to idols, and looked for military help other nations and not from God. God rejected their religious practices and worship to Him. Their worship was corrupt and filled religious hypocrisy, social injustice and un-confessed sin (Leviticus 19:13-17). Even worship, their worship to God was not from an obedient heart (see Proverbs 21:27; Psalms 40:6-8; Micah 6:6-8)!

As long as the people of Israel continued to sin, they isolated themselves from God. God did not abandon Israel, but their sins cut themselves off from Him. The prophet Isaiah encouraged the people to restore a meaningful relationship with God by genuinely repenting of their sins, turning wholeheartedly to God, obeying His Holy Bible, and regularly praying to Him (see also Psalm 140:13; 1 John 1:9).

God desires a sincere faith and devotion to Him from our whole hearts and not just shallow outward rituals (see Deuteronomy 10:12-16; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; Psalm 51:16-19; Hosea 6:6). Our outward religion means nothing to God when they come from someone with wrong motives and a corrupt heart. God wants us to truly love Him, trust Him, and turn from our sin and evil; then He will be pleased with our outward religion acts of time, prayer, money, worship and service. The very prayers of the unrepentant sinners are rejected by God.

Scarlet or crimson is deep-red, and its stain is virtually impossible to remove from clothing and other fabrics. Like scarlet or crimson, the stain of sin is equally permanent, but God can remove all of sin's stain from our lives. God promises that if we are willing and obedient, He will forgive us and remove our most impossible stains of sins (Psalm 51:1-7). As our loving Heavenly Father, God offers a cleansing of the heart along with a life-changing grace, forgiveness and mercy. God (Father, Son – Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit) stands ready to cleanse and forgive all who will turn to Him.

True religion has both an inward and an outward dimension:  genuine heart repentance and social justice. God wants everyone to genuinely turn away from sin, stop doing evil, and totally turn to His way. God’s way includes doing good, defending the fatherless, helping the widow, helping the poor and seeking justice (Isaiah 1:16–17, 21–23; Isaiah 3:13–15).
Many years after the prophet Isaiah, Jesus Christ preached the same sermon to the people. He instructed them to seek justice, mercy, and love (Matthew 23:1-36; see also 1 Corinthians 3:1-23; James 1:21–2:13). Like the prophet Isaiah, Jesus Christ calls us to obey God, be honest and authentic before God and with others, and have both an inward AND outward love for God and people.

God is gracious and forgiving, and He stands ready to cleanse us and to forgive us when we turn to Him. If we are willing to turn from our sins (repentance) and to continue to be obedient (confession), then God will shower us with His full blessings, riches and grace. To rebel and continue in sin brings certain and immediate judgment upon ourselves.
So, let us all let our religion be both inward from the heart and outward to loving actions for others!

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