Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me – for Me?'” (Zechariah 7:4-5).
The heart of religion is man attempting to reach or please God by good deeds or obedience.
I watched a movie recently about a father who made a pilgrimage along the Spanish Camino de Santiago. The 490 mile (791 km) Way of Saint James winds from the French border through Spain to the Roman Catholic Church’s traditional burial site of the Apostle James.
At a particular point along the route, the protagonist stopped and prayed. His prayer was simple: may my good deed of making this pilgrimage be added to my son’s account in the Day of Judgment.
The movie was both entertaining and insightful into the ideas people have about religion.
God was not impressed with the fasting of the Jewish people. In Zechariah, He points out the hypocrisy of their 70 years of fasting: they had fasted for their own benefit. Israel thought that by fasting they could earn some special blessing or favor from the Lord of hosts. He knew their hearts. Their good deeds had been for their own benefit. His arm could not be twisted by sacrifice, nor could He be bought by self-denial.
Good deeds, according to the Bible, don’t gain God’s favor. Praying, giving our money, fasting, sacrificing, all of these works of our righteousnessnes are like filthy rags to Him if we think they are means of getting things from Him (Isaiah 64:6). This is what the Apostle Paul defined as being fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).
We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9) and we live in His favor by grace through faith in Jesus (Romans 1:16-17; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 3:1-3).
It’s human nature to try and get from God by doing things. Rather than creating favor with God, good deeds are the result of God’s favor. The one who comes to the Father by grace through faith in Jesus reveals his faith by good works (James 2:18).