The sport that got me first interested in weightlifting was our Nation’s greatest game, football. Like most young Georgia boys I grew up watching the University of Georgia Bulldogs every Saturday. The stadium, the players, the entire environment created a huge attraction in my heart. I wanted nothing more than to be on the football field as a star player. The problem was that was a whopping 85 pounds my freshman year of high school. I would grow to a massive 130 pounds by my Senior year. My capability at being a stud football player was severely limited by this fact. However, it did not stop me from trying. By the end of my sophomore year, however, I had begun to realize that I was never going to be Herschel Walker, Greg Blue, Lindsay Scott, David Green or any of the past players I had once idolized. But I did know how to play the part like I was going to be. Every Friday I wore my jersey to school. During the school hours I spent my extra time in the football locker room. I was in all the weightlifting classes with the other high school football players even when it meant an inconvenience in my class schedule. I knew how to play the part. I was good at pretending to be one of the star, stud football players on the high school football team. The reality and the truth of the matter is that I watched every single game from the sidelines. The façade I put up was well played, but the reality was a lot different.
This morning as I was reading through Isaiah 29, Isaiah said something when speaking to the people of Jerusalem that sat heavy on my heart. I have always said that American evangelical churches make much of missions and reaching the “unreached” people groups of the world, and in doing so forget and often neglect the largest unreached people group in the world. The largest unreached people group is not what you may think. It’s not a random tribe in a random desert in the middle of a random country, or a group of radical religious men who publicly display their disdain for every other religion or culture on the planet. The largest unreached people group sit firmly in the middle and upper-class of the United States of America, go to church every single week and sit in its pews, have a pretty embedded knowledge of who God is and yet their hearts are far from Him.
Isaiah 29:13 says, “And the Lord said: ‘Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.'”
The people of Jerusalem were God’s people. God’s chosen, handpicked, sanctified people. Their very culture was based upon and revolved around their covenant with the Lord. Their culture was not awfully unlike ours in United States today. Founded on Biblical principles, churches on every corner, and a societal status requirement to attend church (especially here in the South). Just like the people of Jerusalem, American Christians today know how to speak the language of being a Christian, we know how to act in certain situations, we know what pew to sit in on Sunday morning, we know how to give the appearance of Godliness. This façade is embedded in young American children from an early age and has infected generation after generation. That same façade came out of the Jerusalem people that Isaiah was speaking to in Chapter 29. The people of Jerusalem knew what to say, how to say it, and even, as the text indicates, obeyed certain commandments because they were taught by men and it was an embedded part of their culture. The big phrase in Isaiah 29:13 that condemns this façade is that, “their hearts are far from me.”
The people of Jerusalem and the people of American Christianity today know how to pretend. Just like I knew how to pretend to be a stud football player in high school, we know what to do and how to act and what to say in order to pull off the false identity of Christianity. The consequences for my fake identity as a star football player were merely embarrassment and eventual confession that I sucked. The consequences for pretending to be a Christian are eternity spent apart from the very God we profess with our mouth.
Matthew 7:21-23 should be a scary set of verses for those of us that sit in the pews on Sunday morning and look and act different on Monday morning. It says this, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
America is full of these types of people. Furthermore, America's full of these types of athletes. How often do elite athletes point to the sky when they score a touchdown or make the symbol of the Cross across their chest every time they win? How often do we see athletes profess the name of Christ when it’s appropriate behind the microphone and yet do absolutely nothing for the glory of God during their career. How often do we see athletes ride on the back of the Gospel because it helps bring a good reputation to their name and yet their lives look nothing like Jesus? How often do we see athletes leverage their position for the glory of God by serving the church, and not just point to Him when they succeed?
Isaiah 29 and Matthew 7 are a set of scary versus to me. They condemn so many in the American church today because many would tell you point-blank, they are believers, and yet their lives attest differently.
These verses are good reality checks for each of us daily as we look at our lives and make sure that it is not just our lips or gestures that point to the Lord, but it is our hearts that draw near to Him. Actions are the outpouring of a heart committed to the Lord.