Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? (Isaiah 58:4,5)
God explains why He cannot accept their fasting. They thought it gave them special acceptance with Him. He had not commanded their fasting, and their acts of worship were entirely outward and did not reveal the condition of the heart. This is largely the condition of the contemporary church. By and large, the organized church has only a form of godliness.
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:6)
God says in effect, "If you really want to fast, let Me tell you what to do: Instead of fasting and going around with a pious look, stop your sinning. Stop your gossiping. Stop the things that reveal the wickedness and the evil in your hearts. Demonstrate your faith in Me by your conduct. Start being honest in your dealings. Be truthful in what you say. Instead of seeing you in sackcloth and covered with ashes, I'd like to see you clean on the inside."
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? (Isaiah 58:7)
They were turning their backs on the poor and needy and even refused to show kindness to their own flesh and blood. Their religion was as cold as the north side of a tombstone in January! They didn't have a heart for God. When you have a heart for God, my friend, you will also have a heart for other folk. You cannot be hateful and fundamental in your theology at the same time. All of the criticism and unloveliness today is harmful to the cause of Christ. God told His people that He didn't want their so-called worship — they were just going through a form. They were just "playing church." He told them that they might think they were having fun, but it was going to become a burden to them because they would become weary trying to keep up a front before the world.
You will never find liberalism dealing with this part of the Bible. They like to turn to the Sermon on the Mount and pick out a few verses, such as: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). That is great, but the important thing is to confess your sin to God and allow Christ to live His life through you. Religion is a great cover-up today. Oh, how we need a personal relationship with Christ!
—From Edited Messages on Isaiah by Dr. J. Vernon McGee