“God is offended by religious ritual, however impressive, if it conceals an empty heart and a careless life… God opposes all manifestations of human pride.” (Taken from the ESV Study Bible Online – “Introduction to Isaiah”)
What are you first thoughts after reading that statement? At first, I’m having flashbacks to sitting in the pew in “big church” in the mid-90s and checking off all of the boxes on the offering envelope. Read Bible daily. Check. Prayed daily. Check. Tithed. Check. Attended Sunday School. Check. Check. Check! Did anyone else have those envelopes?? But in all honesty, the above statement about religious ritual feels like a slap in the face to me. “Empty heart and careless life?” I do not want my life to be characterized by these descriptions. This statement comes from the ESV Study Bible’s introduction to the Old Testament book of Isaiah. In keeping up with the EASTER CHALLENGE of memorizing Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 (about the suffering and sacrifice of Christ according to the will of God), I wanted to study more about the themes of the prophetic book of Isaiah. In doing so, I came across a list of the themes of the book of Isaiah, with the statements above being #1 and #3 on the “Theme” list. While reading this list, I landed myself into a whole lot of conviction! Religious ritual?! Certainly my religious pursuits are not ritualistic?! The list printed on my childhood offering envelope is certainly not a bad list, but when those items become religious ritual, they are not pleasing to God. In fact, Scripture explains that religious ritual is offensive to God!
Consider these passages from Isaiah (They’re lengthy, but powerful!). The bold and underlined statements describe ways in which the Israelites acted that the Lord was NOT pleased with, and the italicized statements are promises that the Lord makes to His people when their hearts are turned toward Him in humble obedience.
Isaiah 1:10-17 – “
Isaiah 66 – “
Basically, within this theme of “religious ritual” in Isaiah, he makes some very strong points:
1. God is not pleased with godly activities that become ritualistic.
2. Not only is God not pleased with them, He’s offended by them! These passages from Isaiah prove His disgust with the harsh words that He offers. (These passages remind me of how Jesus spoke of the religious leaders of his day – as whitewashed tombs… Yikes!)
3. Because ritualistic behavior is offensive to Him, he won’t listen to those pleas and He will hide His eyes from them. (On the contrary, “ “are the ones to whom He will look! As always, THE LORD OFFERS MERCY! Isaiah 66).
4. God is concerned about the heart behind all religious things we do.
5. God knows the heart behind everything we do. We may be able to fool others and even convince ourselves that our devotion is genuine, but he knows our heart’s intent as we perform religious duties.
6. God wants to wash us and make us clean so that we can be pleasing to Him.
7. We have an active part in the cleansing. (He commanded the Israelites to “
8. The Lord promises to guide and satisfy the desires of those who offer pure worship, sacrifice, and obedience. He wants us to seek the things in which He delights. They are the ones who will receive refreshment from him, “
- READ: Take a look at the New Testament in Matthew 23. Jesus is pretty harsh toward the religious leaders of the day in the same way that Isaiah spoke to the Israelites of his day. The Lord is serious about religious devotion NOT becoming a mere ritual or show.
- STUDY: Study the theme of religious ritual throughout the Bible. Start with Isaiah.
- EVALUATE: Evaluate the ways in which you pursue the Lord. Evaluate your prayer life, commitment to Scripture, offering of tithes, worship through music, and involvement with the local church. What is your heart behind your involvement with religious tasks? These tasks are of course NOT bad in themselves, but our heart while doing these things can become hardened through ritualistic behavior rather than freshly seeking the Lord through these things.
- PRAY: Ask the Lord to show you ways that your pursuit of Him may have become ritualistic. Ask Him to give you a fresh desire to please Him, obey Him, and make sacrifices in order to become more like Him. As the Lord to guard your heart and mind against complacency, apathy, or ritualistic behavior. (For further study on "Spring Cleaning" of your spiritual life, view "Spring Cleaning Assistant for Hire."
I pray that as you head to church tomorrow morning, open your Bible, worship Him through giving and songs, and plead with Him in prayer, your heart will be refreshed, renewed, humbled, encouraged, convicted, and spurred on to further true devotion to Him – the kind of sacrificial devotion that pleases Him and sanctifies you!