When I was a kid, I liked playing tag. Fleet of foot, I was often the last one tagged. Some of my schoolmates almost never won and developed an attitude toward the frequent winners. To overcome their lack of speed and agility, they would change the rules: re-location or redefinition of what was “safe,” placing a time limit on how long anyone could stay on a safe base, the use of “magic words,” whatever.
Another tactic to defeat the winners was to change the game. Name-calling was especially effective. Who wants to win at tag if everybody (it seems) on the schoolyard says you wear long-handled underwear, or have warts, or smell bad? Hey, get me below the radar. I won’t try so hard to win at tag next time.
Two men who lived 860 years apart confronted people who invented new rules for the same game. Isaiah (29:13) put it this way:
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
Maybe we’d better step back to make sure we’re playing the right game. Clearly, those people (the Jews of ancient Israel) were playing to a different audience, an audience of their peers, not to a holy, supreme God who knew everything about them. You might think, how silly; they’ll never get away with that. How could they drift so far from reality? What’s the point of a pointless game?
To them, it wasn’t pointless. They really were most interested in impressing other people. God was no longer real to them. They’d made gods of themselves. Looking good instead of being good, they simply went through the motions of being religious.
Deceivers. Pretenders. Cheats. Liars. Charlatans. Quacks. Posers. Frauds. Cons. Impostors. Phonies. Swindlers. Take your pick; we wouldn’t want any for a relative.
Our natural response is to look out for ol’ #1. Just yesterday, I rose to defend myself when an airline ticket agent bluntly accused me of butting in front of others. Hey, that’s unfair! I let my pride intrude upon patience and mercy. The world sees when we display an unwillingness to admit when we have wronged a brother and seek forgiveness; when we hold a grudge or refuse to forgive.
The list goes on: sexual impurity, abuse of family members, exploiting workers, taking from the helpless, unethical business practices, outbursts of anger, bullying one’s spouse, pride and lack of humility, a judgmental spirit against those we disagree with or deem unworthy of our attention …
Is God speaking to you about your attitude? About what you do with your money? Your thought life? Oh, my, I’m nailed on every one. Lord, forgive us. Accepting Jesus’ forgiveness means I first admit my sin. Repentance = agreeing to turn back 180 degrees. God will honor that humility.