Chapter 58 describes a people who are going through the motions, but lack true faith. When religion becomes more important than living out your faith, you are wasting your time. Religious practices are of no use if you do them to please yourself, or to look spiritual. True faith is lived out in love.
If we have an authentic walk with God, our faith will show itself in our actions. I am not saying that we earn our way to heaven. We enter heaven by the grace of God, but as we develop the vertical relationship with God, then it should flow out in horizontal relationships with those around us. James chapter 2 addresses this same idea. Verses 14 –17 states, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go I wish you well; keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (NIV).” As I type this I am challenged to examine myself in this area. Am I an advocate for the oppressed? Do I take action to help the hungry, provide for the homeless, and clothe the naked? Do I hide from those who need help, or am I willing to give of my resources to those in need?
When we stop being religious and start living an authentic faith, God meets us there. Chapter 58 verse 8 says, “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.” The challenge is before us. Take up the cross and live out your faith shining as a glorious witness for Christ.
Chapter 59 warns us against sin. It reminds us that sin cuts us off from God and goes on to describe what happens to a nation who lives in sin without repentance. Much of it can be seen in our society today: lies, corruption, dishonesty, lawsuits, violence, injustice, and courts that oppose the righteous. Verse 15 says, “Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked.” I am reminded of the labels thrown at Christians who take a stand against immoral living. They are labeled intolerant, hate-mongers, homophobes, and narrow-minded.
Thankfully the chapter doesn’t end there. Verses 17-21 tell us that God himself steps in to save. He puts on righteousness and repays his enemies for their evil ways. And in the end people will respect his name and they will glorify him. I am glad for the hope that comes through Christ!
What a challenging example Paul sets for us! He wrote this letter from jail where he was imprisoned for the cause of Christ. Rather than complaining to God, “Why have you allowed me to be here? Haven’t I served you faithfully? I don’t deserve this God.” He preached to the guards. He encouraged the prisoners, and the gospel continued to grow. He was an unstoppable flame that still burns today. His words continue to teach Christians even now. Wow! May we all be challenged to leave such a legacy as this!