“Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?”

Isaiah had strong words for God’s people who were fed up with God for not responding to them. They fasted and made a show of their outward religion, but still failed to extend God’s love to the people around them who were in need. We may wish that Isaiah’s words to the people of Israel weren’t so applicable today. We love to separate ourselves from them to avoid facing our own sin. But the reality is, we too love a religious show. We sacrifice on the outside as a bargaining tool for God to respond like we want. We like the appearance of piety, obedience, and buttoned-up Christianity. Yet, too often it is in fact just our appearance that concerns us. Do our lives look Christian? Do people think we are committed followers of Jesus?

The Lord doesn’t desire our fasts simply for show. He doesn’t take sacrifice as currency. He isn’t interested in our depriving ourselves so we can feel better or more pious. To do that is to miss the heart of fasting altogether. God is in the business of freeing us from our bonds, not strapping on tighter yokes of legalism.

What good is a fast if we aren’t living obediently in daily life? God is after our hearts—our daily surrender to Him. We don’t get to do as we please and then shell out one sacrificial act to cover our disobedience the rest of the week. God wants us to know, experience, and walk in the freedom that only comes when our lives are yoked to Him. He desires justice for the oppressed and that we leverage our lives to care and love for others (58:7). Outward religiosity isn’t the same as daily humbling ourselves before God. Christ came to set us free from the law of sin and death so we might experience freedom in Him.

• What are the ways that you are more concerned with the appearance of religion than genuine obedience? How do Isaiah’s words challenge your motivation for spiritual discipline?

• How do you use your own obedience as a bargaining chip for God? What are the ways you look to your own deeds to earn favor with God?

• Take some time to repent of the ways you have been more concerned about the appearance of Christianity than your actual faith. Ask the Lord to free you from the binds you have put on yourself. Ask Him for a renewed desire to love Him and love others with a sincere heart.