“What Does It Mean to be a Christian?”

Isaiah 65:1-16


Today we are reading God’s answer to Isaiah’s lament for the people of Israel, from last week’s message. Part of last week’s lament was that no one was calling on God’s name because they felt God had hidden His face from them. In today’s Scripture, God answers this accusation in verse 1, stating that He did indeed reveal Himself to this nation, and has continually revealed Himself, the problem was in the people, not God. 


God continues in the next six verses describing the problem the people have, so there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding. You can boil the problem down to three characteristics: 


devising one’s own ways, and 

those ways being devised are not good. 

Sadly, we haven’t learned yet, we still have difficulty obediently submitting to the ways of living that God, the Creator has designed for us. We still rebel and create our own ways of living. When we choose any way that is not God’s way, it is not good. 


The Israelites had taken on worship practices in much the way the pagans around them were doing. Pagans believed that the behavior and attitude of the gods were automatically altered when a particular worship practice was performed. The attitude of the worshipper was not important. What mattered was if the ritual was done correctly. If so, the results of manipulating the god to do what you wanted would be accomplished. 


Isaiah sees this very attitude in the Israelites he is trying to assist. The worship practices described in these verses look identical to the Canaanite practices the Israelites found attractive. 

The problem was, God finds any ritual disgusting when it is performed in a manner that does not express a changed heart. Somehow they had forgotten that part. 


Their lament of God remaining silent, was about to change. Because verse 6 tells us He will not keep silent, and verse 7 says He will also act by fully repaying them for what they have done. Uh, Oh!


However, the next set of verses, 8 through 11, give us hope. Yes, the condition of the human heart to fail and not do what God expected was rampant. But do not dismay, there was a remnant of the faithful. God calls them His “servants” in verse 8, and the people who seek God, in verse 10. 


What does it mean to seek the Lord? 


For the Israelites listening to Isaiah, they would have recalled Deuteronomy 4:29,  

“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”


It’s about having a relationship with God where you are seeking to be able to be in His presence and to know His ways in order to please Him, rather than, to receive a blessing or gain a better destiny through a particular religious behavior. 


The best way to express this servant behavior is found again back in Deuteronomy 6:5


“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”


God is faithful, and His promises are true. God reminds them of His promise to Jacob in verse 9. God wasn’t about to wipe out all of the Israelites. 

He had a plan and would stick to His part of it. He does however, remind them that it was not their birthright that would keep them in His favor, but they needed to have a behavior that demonstrated they were servants of God. God was aware of those who were trying to manipulate Him for blessings and those who desired to seek Him first and His blessings secondarily. 


Human nature remains the same. Today’s culture is similar to the culture in Isaiah’s day in that humans want benefits with the least amount of personal cost. We demand our human rights, especially the right for us to choose what is good and what is wrong for ourselves. When we do so, we are denying the fact of creation. When we decide what the norms of human existence should be then we are basically stating there is no Creator, that we are the one in charge. We are denying the Creator who established our norms and as Creator those norms are nonnegotiable. We want to be the one who calls the shots, but we also want to receive God’s blessings. 

As if self-reliance is a God given gift. Like the Israelites, we keep asking God for things and hear no response. We figure out all of the rituals God has required, like praising Him, praying to Him, obeying Him, abstaining from bad things, we make sure we do them, seeking to receive God’s blessing. 


The problem is, God doesn’t want these things. By themselves, God sees them as disgusting. 


Because, by themselves, they are seen as an expression of human pride. We have put our human understanding of a commodity and translated it into our relationship with God. It’s like we are in a trade agreement, God you have some things I want and I have some things you want, so if I give my things to you, you will have to give your things to me. 


That mentality is not the mentality of a servant of God. 

The servant of God realizes that in reality, God needs nothing. 


Yet He has freely given me everything I could ever need or want. There is not one thing I can do to earn blessings from God. 


However, what I really need is God’s presence in my life. And His presence is only possible, when I am willing to give up claiming my rights and recklessly abandon myself to God’s love and commit my entire being to Him, because I want to. 


The Isrealites didn’t want to give up their personal rights anymore than we want to today. They were gauging their faith on the basis of externals and that method of determination exists still today. 


What does it mean to be a Christian? 


Does it mean you are a member of a Christian church, much like the Israelites claimed they were God’s chosen people. 


Or, does it mean you have to have received Christ as your personal Savior, and you are a member of the universal church. 


But just asking Christ to enter your heart doesn’t demonstrate you are in a relationship with Him. So do you need to attend worship on a regular basis, participate in the sacraments, the music, the prayers and hearing the Word of God?


Whereas others will say that just because you sit in a pew on Sunday isn’t the only way to worship. One can worship God in their heart any day of week, anywhere. 


Then you have those who think that worship is wrapped up into feelings and the best way to show you are a Christian is to give water to the thirsty, a coat to those who are freezing and a word of encouragement to those who are in despair, all for the sake of Christ. 


Good grief! Who do you believe? Are any of these views correct? 


Actually, they are all correct and they are all false, depending upon the attitude with which they are accomplished. 


God does not gauge our faith by external behaviors alone.  Malachi put it like this in 1:10“How I wish one of you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and I will not accept your offerings.”

Unless we are presenting our worship and service with a glad servant heart, we are wasting our time. It’s like a bridegroom asking the minister how many hours a month he has to spend with his bride to keep the marriage going. If he’s asking the question something’s wrong and the marriage is already doomed before it begins. 


How do you know a Christian when you see one? 


Good question, it’s not that easy to distinguish, because it’s not just about what we can see on the exterior. It has as much to do with what is going on in the interior. Where is that person’s heart? Does it reveal itself as having a loving bond-slave relationship with God. Are what we are seeing and feeling from them the same as we would sense what Jesus would do? 


Better yet, how do you make sure we are being a Christian? 


Here is the test – 

Take a look at your external behaviors, why are you doing what you are doing? 


Take a look at your heart, would you describe it as a loving serving heart, sold out to God. 



Do your external behaviors match your servant’s heart? 


You can’t have one without the other. 


I close today with this question,


“If you were arrested today, for being a Christian, would there be enough internal and external evidence to convict you?”


Let’s pray.