Both right worship and good works are vital, but without just works accompanying it, our worship cannot be true.
Listen to what the Lord said through Isaiah:
““What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough… Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:11–14, ESV)
The problem wasn’t with the offerings themselves, it was that they were vain offerings. That is, they meant nothing to the people offering them because there was no genuine repentance or turning away from evil. The problem here is the hypocrisy of blatant iniquity, and the attempt to cover it over with solemn assemblies.
So, God says,
“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15, ESV)
We can’t cover our selfish, self-destructive attitudes, actions, and affections with ritual, ceremony, or even creeds. Saying the right things, and knowing the right things are not the same thing as truly believing the word of God. Truly believing the word of God is always worked out into actions that reflect the character of God as good, compassionate, just, and merciful.
This is the first thing that God desires to please him. Right worship and ceremony can support and reflect a life lived in imitation of God, but to quench the Spirit’s leading toward this in the liturgy is nothing less than a rebellion against the living God.
Sisters and brothers, we will not win that fight.
“…the Lord Jesus…[will be] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” (2 Thessalonians 1:7–9, ESV)
Evil will be cast out of existence, and if we keep holding on to evil, we will also experience the punishment of that purifying fire.
On our own, we have an inevitable tendency to hold on to evil. To return again to our sinful, selfish, self-destructive ways. Yet God in his mercy sent his Son to forgive us of our sins, to heal us from its effects, to set us free to orient our lives toward justice and life. ““Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)
This is confirmed in a Gospel passage from Luke 19. This is the wonderful story of Zacchaeus the cheating tax collector who, upon encountering Jesus, does a complete 180. He turns from his sin and makes everything right, going above and beyond as he restored all he owed to those he cheated.
“…Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”” (Luke 19:9–10, ESV)
Notice the salvation here isn’t being swept out of this world, but rather things being as they should be in this world.
This is what is possible in the present as we trust that Jesus’ is indeed the pattern for all humanity. This what we are saved into when we receive the forgiveness of our own sins that Jesus offered on the cross, even has as he was unjustly murdered. This is how we are freed to live as we receive the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from dead.
It’s this experience of forgiveness and real change of heart and life that confirms the promised hope that this work of the renewal of all things has only just begun, and will indeed be completed when Jesus comes again.
It is the grace of God in Christ that makes it possible for us to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, [and] plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16–17, ESV).