Faith and works have had a turbulent history. Finding the proper relationship is important to our Christian faith.
I. Worship and Evil: Isaiah 1:10-15
“Hear the word of the Lord,
You rulers of Sodom;
Give ear to the law of our God,
You people of Gomorrah:
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
Or of lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who has required this from your hand,
To trample My courts?
Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood. ”
A. Offerings and Sin
Samuel said said to Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice. (I Samuel 15:22) We cannot live sinful lives and then think that we can buy God’s forgiveness by giving a big offering. Certainly it is good to give offerings, but it is more important to be obedient.
B. Worship and Sin
We are supposed to worship God. It is good to gather together with other believers to worship and pray. Many traditional congregations begin their worship with a time of confession of sins and a request for forgiveness. That can be a good thing. The potential problem with this is that some may use it as an excuse to continue in sinful behavior. The thinking may be that I can do what I want throughout the week as long as I go to church on Sunday and ask for forgiveness. That is not how it works. We are not to use the sacrifice of Christ as a means to remain in our sins. It is by the power of God that we are able to escape the clutches of sin. To come together to worship God, and then purposely remain in sin brings no glory to God.
II. Cease to Do Evil: Isaiah 1:16-17
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
I greatly appreciate the simplicity of the statement “cease to do evil, learn to do good”. Of course, we need to be able to recognize the difference between good and evil. That is something that we should turn to the Bible to identify. Our culture does not lead the way to godliness. As Christians, we should follow the Bible, not to earn our salvation, but to display our salvation. We should “let our light shine, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
We should seek justice. God is concerned about how we live in society. As Christians we should rebuke the oppressor and speak up for the oppressed. Evangelical Christians were opposed to the Social Gospel movement, which seemed to equate salvation with a good life on earth. The emphasis placed on forgiveness of sins is appropriate, but to ignore injustice is wrong. We should preach the forgiveness of sins first, and work for justice second. They are not equal concerns, but justice should not be ignored.
III. Forgiveness: Isaiah 1:18-20
“Come now, and 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 be as wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the good of the land;
But if you refuse and rebel,
You shall be devoured by the sword”;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9) Forgiveness is offered to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
However, we are also told, “If you love me, keep my commandments” John 14:15 We are forgiven for our past sins, but we are called, and enabled to turn away from the practice of sin.
Obedience will be rewarded, disobedience will be judged.
May God help us to cease to do evil and learn to do good, not because we are attempting to earn our salvation, but because we want to live out our salvation.