How strongly — if at all — do you believe in the promises of God?
This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (Isaiah 56:1-2, NIV)
Isaiah was a prophet that was used mightily by God. He is the most quoted prophet in the New Testament, both by Jesus and the apostles. God had much to say to the people through the prophet Isaiah, both good and bad. The bad stuff was very, very bad. But the good stuff… oh! How I look forward to the good stuff! Some of it has already come to pass, such as the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 and the free offer of mercy in Isaiah 55. And I suppose, from the perspective of eternity, that is, from a perspective outside of time and creation as we know it, the promises in Isaiah 56 have already come to pass as well. But since we’re still living inside of time instead of outside of time, it really hasn’t come to pass for us, yet. We can only hold on to the promise, knowing that as soon as we’ve breathed our last, we will realize the promise made in Isaiah 56, as well as all the other promises.
Of course, some will not be glad to realize the promises of God. Such as the one He makes in Isaiah 57:21,
“There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.”
Many, who will pass from this life into the next, will bemoan the fact that they sloughed off the warnings and exhortations made as regards living only for themselves and not for God. There will be those, too, who will pass from this life into the next believing they’re covered, that they did all that was required of them. Unfortunately, they will discover that it wasn’t about what they did, but rather, the why or the heart behind it. We may be able to fool ourselves into believing that our motives are pure, but God knows our hearts and knows what is really behind what we do – we cannot fool Him.
Jesus got after the religious leaders of His time for such thinking. They believed that what they did made them acceptable before God. But Jesus knew their hearts and He compared them to…
“…whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” Matthew 23:27, 28
He got after them for their ceremonies and rituals. In verse 24 He called them,
“…blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.”
In his message, ‘The Way to God’, John Wesley [1703-1791] writes…
“Forms and ceremonies, even of the best kind, are outward things, and not true religion. Suppose these religious ceremonies to be decent, significant, expressive or spiritual things, and helpful to both the educated and the uneducated. Consider them, as in the case of the Jews, to be appointed by God himself.
Nevertheless, they do not contain true religion even during the time that God’s appointment of them remains in force. Strictly speaking, they do not contain true religion at all. This is even more true regarding rites and forms that are only creations of men.”
A little later he goes on to say…
“The nature of religion does not properly consist of outward actions of any kind.”
Religion has never saved anyone. Only by faith in the risen Christ can anyone be saved. As the apostle Paul wrote,
“We who are Jews by birth and not `Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:15-16, NIV).
But to help me get at the point I desire to make, let us go back to John Wesley for a moment…
“Two persons may do the same good, outward act – as feeding the hungry – and one be religious, while the other is not. This is because one may do the act out of love and the other for the love of praise. Although real religion leads to good works and words, its real nature still lies deeper. Real religion lies in the hidden heart of man. This, alone, is religion as it is truly so-called. This, alone, is of value in the sight of God.”
Jesus made this clear in Matthew 7:21-23, when he said,
“Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (NIV)
I believe this is what the apostle Peter had in mind when he wrote…
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:2-11, NIV)
Amen and Amen.