in the tenth chapter of the book of Romans, we learn the spiritual condition of many of the Israelites living in the first century. The Apostle Paul says they have a zeal for God, but their zeal will not save them. Imagine being zealous for God, but not being saved!
The reason is that they seek to establish their own righteousness and do not receive the righteousness of God which comes from Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3).
The righteousness from God is given by grace when we put our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus gives both forgiveness of sins and His righteousness. The righteousness of Christ is the only acceptable righteousness in the eyes of God.
The Israelites did not understand that the Law does not and cannot make them righteous. The law is a tutor that uncovers sin and points to Christ. The Law points to the need for a Savior. Only Christ makes us righteous. Paul says, “Christ is the end (telos, aim) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” He is the One to whom the Law points (Romans 10:4).
The message of the gospel is the explanation of how we may have true worship in the eyes of God. True worship in the eyes of God is to humbly approach God with empty hands, as a beggar, saying, “I am not righteous, and I cannot be righteous. I need a Savior.”
The main idea of this passage is that we are to examine our religion to know if our worship is true in the eyes of God.
The word “religion” is often misunderstood, so let’s take a moment to understand the use of the word. Religion is a system of faith and worship. As Christians, acts that we do for religion include such things such as singing, reading Scripture, fasting, giving offerings, and serving. Islam is a religion with acts of worship. Hinduism is a religion. Judaism is a religion.
Within Christianity, there is such a thing as a true and false religion. For example, James tells us,
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:26-27)
This passage in Isaiah helps us distinguish between true and false religion, or as James says, pure religion and worthless religion. As we go through this passage, we need to examine our hearts to know if our religion is true in the eyes of God.
The questions we need to ask are: Is my religion worthless? Is my religion acceptable to God? Will I arrive at God’s throne and hear Him say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you”? Am I a true worshipper?
The Lord God speaks through the prophet Isaiah from verse 1 through verse 16.
“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call on My name.” (Isaiah 65:1)
God makes a profound statement. He says that He may stand right next to us, but we will not see Him unless He reveals Himself. The only way we may see God is if God allows. God must open our eyes and ears for us to see and hear Him. We may not worship a God we do not know. The only way we may worship God is if God allows Himself to be found.
Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9 to His disciples, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND.” (Luke 8:10)
When God looks upon the heart, and He sees a true worshipper, He permits Himself to be sought after and found. It is as Jesus says to Nicodemus. All people are spiritually dead, and the Holy Spirit of God must blow like a wind into their life and quicken them to make them alive. We must be born of the Spirit of God to worship God.
The Israelites accuse God of not listening. It is not that God isn’t listening. The problem is their heart is dead, and they do not see God.
Some people read the Bible and imagine a completely different god. They do not know the God of the Bible, but only the god of their imagination.
What then is a true worshipper, and what is a false worshipper?
“I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts a people who continually provoke Me to My face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks; who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots. Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!’” (Isaiah 65:2-4a)
God reveals that the problem is not with Him, but with the people of Israel. He has spread out His hands to them all day long. God proves faithful to the Israelites. The Israelites do not prove to be faithful to God.
God gives examples of how they follow their thoughts and not God’s. They burn incense on bricks, sit among the graves, and so forth. The examples are “illustrative” of the heart attitude, and not necessarily the actual behavior.
Paul uses this passage to describe the Jews of the first century. They were not doing what God describes in these verses, but Paul sees these verses describe the people of his day who try to achieve their righteousness. What the passage reveals is that their worship is no different than pagan worship.
For us to understand how Paul can make the connection, we need to understand pagan worship. Pagan religion requires such things as offering sacrifices and burning incense. The reason is that you want something good in your life, you make a sacrifice to the gods, and the gods will bestow favor because of the sacrifice. It is a quid pro quo religion. “If I scratch your back, god, you will scratch mine.” It is a religion of accounting. The more deeds performed in the name of the god, the more the god owes the person.
The Jews of the first century thought that if they do the deeds of the Law, it counts as righteousness. They believe in doing so; they receive the blessings of Abraham.
The Pharisees approach God thinking that doing the Law of Moses makes them righteous guaranteeing heaven. Jesus pronounces woe to the scribes and Pharisees because they tithe seeds but neglect the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). Their religious act of tithing is of no value. It is false worship.
The Pharisees believe they are justified by their works, but their heart is full of sin. Jesus says that on the outside, they appear beautiful, like whitewashed tombs, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27).
Remember the parable Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the tax collector?
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The one who is justified is the one who humbly seeks mercy.
We have the same problem in Christianity. Some believe that if they read their Bible and pray, they are worshipping. They give to the church. Sing in the choir. They think that God looks upon them and that because of their good deeds, God owes them. They don’t understand why bad things happen. They believe that because they do the works of the Christian religion, God will make sure everything will go right in their life. They count their works as righteousness. Some are like the people of Israel in their self-righteousness, and say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!”
Repeating the words of the sinner’s prayer does not obligate God to save you. It is not a magical incantation that God must obey. God looks at the heart. Be careful in trying to get your child to repeat words thinking God automatically gives a ticket to heaven.
The prosperity gospel teaches false worship. People are led to believe that if they give to God, that God owes them. “Sow the seed of $100 and get $1,000.” Read a verse about healing, believe it, and God is obligated to heal. People are taught the acts of religion are an accounting system in which God owes people because of their works.
God is not a god who has a system of accounting where we may do acts of religion in which God must pay us back. The only acceptable work God counts as true worship is that of faith. We must approach God as humble beggars. We come to God with nothing. We are unworthy needing salvation.
The only work we bring to God is the work Jesus does on the cross. We need the righteousness of Christ. We need salvation every day. We are debtors to God, and only Jesus pays our debt in full and makes us complete.
God tells us what He thinks of those who are self-righteous and do not look for the righteousness found in Christ.
“These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. Behold, it is written before Me, I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will even repay into their bosom, both their own iniquities and the iniquities of their fathers together,” says the Lord. “Because they have burned incense on the mountains and scorned Me on the hills, therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom.” (Isaiah 65:5-7)
The illustration God gives is clear to people who don’t have furnaces and electric stoves. Having smoke in the nostrils all day long is very unpleasant. God equates self-righteous religion as an abomination to His nostrils.
God gives a stern warning. He will not keep silent but will repay people who refuse the righteousness which He offers through His Son. He will measure their works and repay them to their bosom, the center and core of their life. God’s judgment is sure. Only faith in Christ’s work on the cross is pleasing to God.
After speaking about false worship and false religion, God reveals the nature of true worship and true religion.
Thus says the Lord, “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is benefit in it,’ so I will act on behalf of My servants in order not to destroy all of them. I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and an heir of My mountains from Judah; even My chosen ones shall inherit it, and My servants will dwell there. Sharon will be a pasture land for flocks, and the valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for My people who seek Me.” (Isaiah 65:8-10)
We find two truths in this passage about true worshippers. First, true worshippers are born of God. God permits Himself to be found by them. God opens eyes, just as God opens the eyes of Saul as he travels on the road to Damascus. All true worshippers are chosen ones who the Spirit reawakens. We are dead in our trespasses and sins, and God makes us alive in Christ. Those who are true worshippers become true worshippers because God shows mercy. It is a work of God’s great love (Ephesians 2:4-10).
It is from this passage the Apostle Paul understands why some Israelites in his time are saved. It is because God promises to bring forth a remnant from Israel. Throughout the history of Israel, God keeps a remnant of descendants of Abraham. He always chooses some as true worshippers.
God is faithful to His servants, such as Jacob, to bring forth offspring who will inherit salvation and dwell in His kingdom. God does not destroy the olive tree but keeps a remnant. In His grace, God grafts Gentiles into the tree as a wild branch.
The second truth is true worshippers are servants. Think of this word, servant, which God uses frequently to describe His people. Servants are not demanding expectations. Servants don’t think of their needs, but they think of the job given to them by their master. True worshippers are servants who serve like Jesus. Jesus sets the example of being a servant.
After God opens the eyes of His people, they serve God with joyful hearts. Their works are not works to gain righteousness but born out of a grateful heart. Serving God is a work of love, not a work to gain God’s favor.
True worshippers seek God, not the blessings of God. True worshippers get to heaven and don’t look for a mansion or good food. They get to heaven, and they want God above all things. God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. He rewards with giving them Himself.
We learn more about false worship in the next two verses.
“But you who forsake the Lord, who forget My holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune, and who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and all of you will bow down to the slaughter. Because I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not hear. And you did evil in My sight and chose that in which I did not delight.” (Isaiah 65:11-12)
False worshippers forget God and do not answer God’s salvation. They do evil because God does not find delight in the things they choose. God delights in faith. False worshippers do not put their faith in God.
God speaks of two pagan gods, Fortune and Destiny. They are gods of future events and circumstances. They seek to control their future, not by trusting in God, but by trusting in the world. Trusting in Fortune and Destiny is no different than putting their faith in education, careers, becoming famous, getting an inheritance, Wall Street, politics, and hundreds of other ways to find joy and happiness.
False worshippers wake up in the morning and write their agenda for the day and trust that the way they expend their energy will bring good. They might pray and read their bible, but it is not to seek God’s direction for their agenda. It is only an added item to their agenda. They make decisions and live without seeking to know God’s purpose and plan.
When Jesus is our Cornerstone, we line up our entire building of life with Him. Jesus is not a stone in our building that we add on. He is to be the foundation and direction upon which we build our life. Too often, Christians make God a part of life and not the supreme purpose for living. It is as Paul says,
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20
To those who put their faith in Fortune and Destiny, God destines for slaughter.
True worshippers find satisfaction in God.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “Behold, My servants will eat, but you will be hungry. Behold, My servants will drink, but you will be thirsty. Behold, My servants will rejoice, but you will be put to shame. Behold, My servants will shout joyfully with a glad heart, but you will cry out with a heavy heart, and you will wail with a broken spirit. You will leave your name for a curse to My chosen ones, and the Lord God will slay you. But My servants will be called by another name. (Isaiah 65:13-15)
Those who trust in Christ are satisfied. Jesus is the bread and water of life. They are like Jesus, who says that their food is doing the will of God (John 4:34).
They hunger and thirst for Christ’s righteousness, and their soul is full. Those who put their faith in the world will eat but never find fulfillment. They will drink, but will always be thirsty. When we have Christ, we shout joyfully and have a glad heart, no matter our circumstance. Take away our food, home, health, and we ought to find contentment and satisfaction because our satisfaction is in Christ.
Those without faith, always have a heavy heart and a broken spirit. They will never be content. They grumble and complain. They are unhappy. Their name is a curse before God, and their future is condemnation and wrath.
The verse ends with God telling us that true worshippers, God’s chosen servants, are called by another name. We’ve learned the name earlier in Isaiah, it is Hephzibah (Isaiah 62:4). The name Hephzibah means, “My delight is in her.” We are renamed from being God’s enemy and given the name that speaks of us as being God’s delight. God rejoices over us. We are the chosen bride of Christ.
“Because he who is blessed in the earth will be blessed by the God of truth; and he who swears in the earth will swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My sight! (Isaiah 65:16)
If we desire to be blessed in the earth, we need to swear by the God of truth. What this means is that we live in allegiance to God. God is our oath, not the false gods of Fortune and Destiny. When we put our faith in God for our salvation and righteousness, our troubles in this world are forgotten. The troubles of this world have no effect. The reason is that we find in Christ comfort, peace, joy, and satisfaction. When we are in Christ, God casts the trouble of our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Our hope is the anchor for our soul.
God wants us to find joy and satisfaction in Christ. God desires for our religion to be true worship. Every good thing given and every perfect gift comes from our Father above (James 1:17).
God gives us His word so we may look into His word as a mirror. Listen to the words of James:
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. (James 4:23)
Do not be deceived. Don’t go away after hearing these truths without examining your religion to know if your worship is true in the eyes of God.