13 June 2022

Isaiah 58: The reality check

Bible study by Major Carl Huggins

Major Carl Huggins reminds us that we are agents for transformation in others.

Key text

In this age of reality TV and fake news, it’s good to have a reality check every now and then, to get a grip on what is real, to recognise the truth about a situation and especially the difficulties involved. There are occasions when we, the people of God, need to carry out an audit of what is really going on in our inner world and our relationship with God.

In Isaiah 58, God, through the prophet, challenges the Israelites to do just that – to determine what is real and what is fake in their faith.

Let’s take a reality check together.

At first glance of our study passage we see what appears to be a devout people committed to worshipping God. We could be tempted to ask why he would be so unhappy. The people appeared to be frequent and consistent with their worship and prayers, desiring to do what is right before God and to be close to God.

Someone looking in the mirror

Isaiah 58:3-4

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers ... Is this the kind of fast I have chosen...?

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However, after reading further it becomes apparent that God sees beneath the surface to the motives of their hearts, and here lies the problem.

Pause and reflect

  • Is your faith an empty show or does it reflect a heart in tune with God?

In verses 3 to 5 God reveals a disparity between their Sabbath worship and everyday living: “‘Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?”

‘Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?’

Pause and reflect

  • Is your worship one day of religious reflection or a relational lifestyle?

The Israelites in our study passage don’t understand that honest worship results in transformed behaviour. Worship is not a ritual or act, it has to be personal and relational – a daily decision to walk humbly with Christ.

In Romans 12:1 and 2 the apostle Paul writes: ‘Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.’ In Colossians 3:17 he urges: ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.’

Worship isn’t an act. It’s a way of life.

Pause and reflect

  • If your worship has become empty, how can you change that?

In verses 6 and 7 of our study passage, Isaiah shows that properly motivated worship results in two major behavioural changes – overcoming spiritual struggles and actively seeking to meet the needs of others.

As believers we should pray, in the name of Jesus, that we might open our eyes to meet the needs around us as we seek to live in relational love for his glory.

Pause and reflect

  • Why should our faith cause us to meet the needs of others?

Two types of blessings are described in verses 11 and 12: personal blessings of God’s ongoing care and guidance for those who follow him – God will strengthen us; and community blessings – we will be like an oasis for others.

When worship transforms us, we become agents for transformation in others and become part of rebuilding and restoring what was broken by sin.

Pause and reflect

  • Which of these blessings are most meaningful to you?

If our motives are impure, misplaced or misguided, not only will God be displeased with us, but we will also struggle during difficult times. While our religious practices may appear perfect and acceptable, the reality is that they become hollow, God feels distant and we struggle to feel committed to the Christian community. When our worship is superficial and only a surface act, it becomes easier to fall away.

The call of Isaiah is to reflect and consider where we stand with God. God desires more than lip service; he calls us to live in relationship with him. God calls us not to an empty show, but to life in all its fullness.

Jesus gives us a similar invitation: ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life’ (Matthew 11:28 The Message).

Prayerfully consider your motives for your religious actions and practices. Making necessary adjustments will bring out the best in your life and will help you join God in his mission of rebuilding and restoring broken lives.

Let's pray

What wondrous gifts are in my care,/ Of body, intellect and will,/ Of time and place to think and plan/ And to employ my every skill;/ My great Creator’s power to bless/ In silent worship I confess. (SASB 633)


Bible study by

Major Carl Huggins

Major Carl Huggins

Corps Officer, Leicester South

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