Isa 58:3 '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. Isa 58:4 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. Isa 58:5 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? Isa 58:6 "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? Isa 58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
There are two errors that need to be addressed from this passage. The first one being addressed in these verses plainly stated it is religious hypocrisy. It is the idea that we can live any way we want and “fix it” by religious observances. This is a common misconception among Roman Catholics but prevalent among others as well. I used to work with several Catholics who were extremely ungodly and made no bones about it but would attend mass Saturday night to have their sin slate wiped clean so they could start all over. This is pretty similar to what the Jews were doing in Isaiah’s day.
There are a couple of doctrinal failures that would allow someone to do this. First of all they fail to realize that if someone is truly converted they have been transformed and so now they hate sin and love God and so to continue to live a deliberately sinful life thinking that the sacrifice of Christ can be used so there will be no consequences is to use Christ to dishonor Christ. It is to completely miss the point of salvation and only serve to demonstrate that one was never saved to begin with.
The second failure is to fail to understand the glory of God and therefore not get caught up in the glory of God. It is to think so little of the Lord that you think that you can jump through some hoops a couple of hours a week, some meaningless rituals and that he should be happy for the “worship”. The very essence of our falleness is to not give him our entire life and do everything for his glory, including all our thoughts and actions. To think no more of God than to throw him a bone now and then is tantamount to how we treat our pets when we pet them now and then because they are starved for attention.
One way we could find such hypocrisy in our own lives might go like this: We will do whatever our bosses want during the week in order for them to give us some money and perhaps ignore our families and live primarily only thinking about self and so on and then come to church and suffer through singing that doesn’t mean anything to us and is not in our hearts to start with or we will endure a message from the Bible about things that we won’t give another thought to during the week and then we find ourselves asking the very questions these people did in vs. 3. That is the first error (sin). Basically it is to despise the Lord.
The other error some make in the above verses is to ignore the point Isaiah is making and conclude something not intended. It is a trap that is easy to fall into today and is prevalent among theological liberals. It reads the above text and comes to the conclusion that what God wants is for us to go around doing charity work and not worship. It assumes that formal worship and Bible study (doctrine) and tithing and the like is just “religion” and that it just leads to coldness and has little value. What God wants is for us to do “practical” things like feed the poor and do good works to those in need. On the surface it might sound like this what the passage is saying, 5-6. Is God saying that he isn’t concerned with us going to church and taking a posture of humility, instead he wants us to open a soup kitchen? One catch phrased used today by those that hold such a view is “Deeds, not Creeds”.
Of course, this is pretty much the same sin as the first; it sees little value in learning God’s Word because it places little value on the Lord to begin with. It sees religion as something that makes us good people by following principles and not firstly as how to get right with God. In fact most liberals don’t believe we are sinners under God’s wrath to begin with and so the cross isn’t a way of atonement but an example to follow.
What would cause someone to not be attracted to gathering with the saints, hearing from the Lord, praying and singing to him, giving to his work, etc.? Why would they find more pleasure in doing charity work and see church as of little value? Why do they think they are doing the “more important thing”? The sin here is to not see the worship of God and instruction in his word as important. It therefore doesn’t find much glory and value in knowing God but puts the physical needs of man ahead of God and in so doing does the most harm to man. Some might think that at least they aren’t being selfish because they are serving others. But the problem is that they are being just as selfish in the sense that they are putting their own desires ahead of God by ignoring what he says and doing what they think is right. So they end up putting man above God and so in both cases God is despised.
The answer is of course that both are important and both are how we worship and serve the Lord. Jesus said as much when he said the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor. Learning to know, worship and serve the Lord will result in doing good works towards our neighbor. But loving our neighbor while having little time for God is just so much idolatry.