God is never absent, incapable or tardy in acting.

God is never absent, incapable or tardy in acting.  He is unchallenged, always present and sovereign in nature – you can bank on that truth, even when your heart is not feeling it!  “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;” (Isaiah 59:1 ESV)
SIn separates us from God (59:2), but The Ultimate Redeemer will satisfy justice and secure true salvation for His children; He will give us His Spirit and put His words in our mouths and sustain us (59:19-21).  The people of Israel wanted  justice & salvation, but they don’t want the God of that salvation (11-13).  Do we want God or do we just want His blessings?
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Godliness is having regard for God; ungodliness is an apathetic disregard for God

The grace of God has appeared… training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. (TITUS 2:11-12)

“Grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness. Ungodliness in its broadest form basically comprises disregarding God, ignoring Him, or not taking Him into account in one’s life. It’s a lack of fear and reverence for Him. The wickedness portrayed by Paul in Romans 1:18-32 all starts with the idea that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (verse 21, NIV). A person may be highly moral and even benevolent and still be ungodly. When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we bring a habit of ungodliness into our Christian lives. We were accustomed to living without regard for God. As unbelievers, we cared neither for His glory nor His will. Basically, we ignored Him. But now that we have been delivered from the dominion of sin and brought under the reign of grace, grace teaches us to renounce this attitude (as well as actions) of ungodliness. Obviously this training does not occur all at once. In fact, God will be rooting out ungodliness from our lives as long as we live on this earth. Grace also teaches us to say no to worldly passions, the inordinate desire for and preoccupation with the things of this life, such as possessions, prestige, pleasure, or power. “For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31, NIV). Saying no to ungodliness and worldly passions basically means a decisive break with those attitudes and practices. In one sense, this decisive break is a divine act that occurred when we died to the dominion of sin in our lives. In another sense, we’re to work out this breach with sin by putting to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13).”

Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 45). Kindle Edition.

You cannot obey well enough to secure God’s blessings

“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousnessdid not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”
But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”” (Romans 9:30–10:21 ESV)

The Jews were not justified before God in their ardent attempts at keeping the Law.  They did not attain acceptance before God because they pursued it based on their own efforts instead of by faith; they, much like us, thought that they could perform well enough to earn God’s approval and blessing (9:30-32).  They were ignorant of the how to be righteous before God and worked tirelessly to establish their own righteousness.  But this was to no avail (and still is) because Christ has become our righteousness as a result of His perfect law keeping, and this is given to us by faith.
Paul exposes works based righteousness by quoting Moses in Leviticus 10:5 and says “that the person who does the commandments shall live by them” (Romans 10:5).  This is very attractive to our flesh, we like to point to this and say that if we try really hard we can merit God’s affection and favor.  The problem with this line of thinking is that Paul spends the first three chapters of this very letter unpacking that no one can keep the law perfectly, except Jesus.  The many passages in the Old Testament that tell us that righteousness comes from obedience to the Law are properly interpreted by seeing Christ as the perfect law keeper on our behalf, therefore making us righteous (10:6-8).  God’s requirement is not our perfect adherence to His perfect Law, God’s requirement is faith in the Perfect Law Keeper that attained right standing for us.  Belief in Christ, not our own works based righteousness is how we are justified before God (Romans 10:11).   The Gentiles who did not seek after God (like the Jews) are the ones that found Him – according to His sovereign plans for His glory (10:20).

Dependence, Doing & Delight

““If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”” (Isaiah 58:13–14 ESV)

“The Sabbath is a covenant sign that represents a lifestyle of devotion to the Lord, for it requires the practical reorganization of every week around him.”1    God’s call to His people is not one primarily of doing, but of dependance upon Him.  This pursuit and dependance is manifested by observing the Sabbath rightly with delight,  When this happens our delight is found in God.  God’s grace and mercy is abundant in this passage to a religious, hard hearted, rebellious people; people like us.

1 Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds., The ESV Study Bible (Accordance electronic ed. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), n.p.  Note on Isaiah 56:2.

Personal piety is not about pomp and circumstance

““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? 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? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:6–11 ESV)

Personal piety is not about pomp and circumstance.  Personal piety always results in tangible acts of compassion and mercy (6-7).  True fasting is met by the God of all creation with tangible, true blessings.  But, true fasting is not a tool that is deployed to manipulate God in to getting what we want.  True fasting involves singular pursuit and devotion to God in an attempt to see Him more clearly, know him more fully and experience Him more deeply.  The discipline of fasting places us in proximity to the waterfall of God’s grace, but we still are in desperate need for His intervening power in our lives (8-9).

True faith and the natural outflow of that faith are inextricably linked.  True, dependent faith, is always met with blessings by the benevolent Creator.  The faithful will look like watered gardens in the desert with cool bubbling brooks to satiate their parched souls.  This is indeed supernatural, not something that we are able to manufacture on our own.  v10-11

Religion vs. The Gospel

RELIGION: I obey, therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted, therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God, to delight and resemble him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized, I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a “good person.” Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized, I can take it. I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a “good person.” My identity is not built on my record or my performance, but on God’s love for me in Christ.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of my environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles: If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure, inadequate, and not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time, neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to “the other.”

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for his enemies and who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. It is only by grace that I am what I am. I have no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, regardless of what I say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life: family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things is an ultimate end for me. None of them is something I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency such things can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

Download 11×17 Poster.  Adapted from Gospel in Life Study by Tim Keller.  Comparison above from The Resurgence.

Righteousness does not come from obedience, righteousness comes from faith which leads to obedience. They may look the same on the outside, but the innards are worlds apart!

Righteousness does not come from obedience, righteousness comes from faith which leads to obedience.  They may look the same on the outside, but the innards are worlds apart!  Their “delight” in verse 2 is not genuine as they attempt to use their religious behavior as a tool to pressure and manipulate God to get what they wantBut their real delight is in God’s good gifts, not in the Giver of the gifts.  Their false piety is apparent by their oppression of their workers, fighting and bickering.  Our obedience is never a director of God’s favor; it is a reflection that we have already received God’s favor – their is a huge difference.

““Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.
‘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. 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. 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?” (Isaiah 58:1–5 ESV)

The passive wrath of God; Faith is revealed by what we fear

The people found hope, strength and identity in chasing an endless array of political alliances.  To say that there is no hope, surface level identity or strength in worldly pursuits is not true.  They do, however lack that capacity to provide true, deep soul satiating satisfaction that is sustainable.  Their endless pursuit of idols and alliances kept them energized.  “You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, “It is hopeless”; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint.” (Isaiah 57:10 ESV).  It is frightening that God would allow man to find satisfaction – even if it is fleeting – apart from Him.  This is the Passive Wrath of God.  The people’s faith was revealed but what caused them to fear – man.  Though they had outward signs of allegiance to God – their hearts were revealed by what they feared, what they wanted and what they looked to to provide them with protection, significance & salvation.  God said, “let your idols deliver you.”.

“You journeyed to the king with oil and multiplied your perfumes; you sent your envoys far off, and sent down even to Sheol. You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, “It is hopeless”; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint.
Whom did you dread and fear, so that you lied, and did not remember me, did not lay it to heart? Have I not held my peace, even for a long time, and you do not fear me? I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you. When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you! The wind will carry them all off, a breath will take them away. But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and shall inherit my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 57:9–13 ESV)