In Isaiah 58, God says that although his people “seek me day after day and delight to know my ways,” the Lord nonetheless turns a deaf ear because the people otherwise do what they please and society is filled with injustice. If the people would humble themselves before God and help the hungry and homeless, then God would give healing and cause their light “to break out like the dawn.”
Those are challenging words for any individual whose culture tells him the goal of life is self-fulfillment, rather than serving God’s purposes. We want to honor God, but we also want to be accepted by others and to enjoy the good things our society offers. We find reasons to “go along and get along” — convincing ourselves it doesn’t really matter.
Obedience, however, is complete or it is not obedience. The apostle who most struggled with his impulses wrote: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:14-15 ESV). Those impulses, Peter said, “wage war against your soul.” (2:11)
It is not enough to cultivate private devotion and give ourselves to church work, to participate in whole-hearted worship, even to witness to others and participate in missions projects. If we in other areas of life are still pleasing ourselves or following our society, God rejects our religious activity, however well-intentioned. If we are ignoring the needs of the hungry and homeless, we will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me.”