Preachers today are generally not as forceful in condemning sin as the ancient prophets were. The book of Isaiah begins with a terrible indictment against sinners in Israel. Listen to some of the blunt statements Isaiah made regarding their sinful condition - "Alas, sinful nation, a people heavy with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward" (Isa. 1:4). That's pretty strong language, isn't it?
Isaiah went on to state that they were spiritually and morally sick. They were diseased "from the sole of the foot even to the head" (1:6). Their sins were like decaying ulcers in their flesh. Sin was rotting their souls, and nothing was being done to heal them. These people were so degenerate that the prophet told them - "Unless the LORD of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah" (1:9). Had it not been for the faithful few, God would have destroyed them all! Tragically, many people back then thought that religious rituals could take the place of righteousness. Multitudes today mistakenly believe the same thing. But, the Lord declared that even their worship had become offensive to Him - "Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood" (1:15).
The people of that age were filled with sinfulness, and so are the people of today. Those who are enslaved to sin will only find destruction and anguish. "The soul who sins shall die" (Eze. 18:20). "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Sin has the potential to do to me and to you what it did to the people in Isaiah' time. It will destroy us if we let it!
In spite of all the wickedness that God charged against these people, we find that He did have an offer of forgiveness for them. Consider Isaiah 1:18-20 - "'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the LORD, 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword'; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." Yes, they were vile and exceedingly sinful, but God still wanted them to come back to Him. That was a principle that was true in Isaiah's day and it is still true today! As we examine this passage in greater depth, we will see that God sets forth four general principles of religion. These principles were applicable then and are still applicable today.
1. GOD'S WAY IS ALWAYS REASONABLE.
"Come now, and let us reason together" (Isa 1:18). In this context, the wording suggests a debate or perhaps the presentation of a case in a trial. God had already brought charges of wickedness against them and now He is urging them to examine the evidence, to come and reason with Him about it. If the Israelites considered all the facts fairly, they would have to say that God is right and just. It would seem that the purpose of this reasoning is to get sinners to see the reality of their sinfulness.
To "reason" concerning a matter means to think it through. It means to examine the facts in a logical, consistent way. Logic is nothing to be feared. When the Lord says, "Let us reason together," He is not calling for something complicated. He is calling for honest acceptance of truth. The facts must be accepted.
It's not uncommon to hear people say that the Bible is deep and hard to understand. There are, of course, things in the Scriptures which are difficult to understand (cf. II Pet. 3:16). But, the deep matters are not things essential to becoming a Christian or living righteously. The things that bring about conversion are things easily grasped. For example, Jesus said - "He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16). There's nothing deep about that, is there? When a person is willing to accept what the Bible says, then generally things will be reasonable and clear. But, when a person refuses to accept the plain truths of God's word, things often get confusing.
Clear thinking will humble you and exalt God. The Psalmist said - "I thought about my ways, and turned my feet to Your testimonies. I made haste, and did not delay to keep Your commandments" (Psa. 119:59,60). When a person is willing to honestly examine his own ways, and when he knows the teaching or "testimonies" of the Lord, then he should not delay to obey what is commanded. It's the only reasonable thing to do. It makes no sense to keep on living in a way that leads to eternal ruin! A thinking person (i.e., one who will fairly weigh the situation against the standard of God's word) will come to the right conclusion. And, of course, the right conclusion is always to submit to the will of God!
Tragically, however, some people are not willing to think honestly. Have you ever heard a person trying to defend himself or a position when he knows he is wrong? Such is the foolishness of making excuses for sin. We've all heard them and perhaps made them before, but the fact remains that no one can defend bad conduct with good logic. Sinful conduct is just not reasonable because it leads to eternal destruction! God's way, on the other hand, is always reasonable. When sinners honestly consider their condition, it can only result in the realization that they need forgiveness. If a person concludes otherwise, then he isn't reasoning properly.
2. GOD'S FORGIVENESS IS ALWAYS COMPLETE.
Look at the rest of Isaiah 1:18 - "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Man needs forgiveness, and when God forgives He does so completely. The comparison here is striking. Sin is like a deep, dark red that you can't remove by yourself. But, God can remove the stain of sin and make it the purest white imaginable! His followers seem even brighter still when contrasted with the sin-filled world they have come out of.
There are many verses in the Bible that convey the notion that God's forgiveness is always complete. Let's consider some of them briefly. Psalm 103:12 declares - "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." Ponder that for a moment. If you were to start traveling around the world, how far would you have to go before you got to the east? Actually, you will never get there! Why? Because regardless of how far you go, there will still be more miles of east ahead! There is no stopping place. That's the way God's forgiveness is. It keeps on going; it's as far as the east is from the west.
Consider also Isaiah 38:17 - "...You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back." When God puts our sins behind His back, they are removed and no longer seen. Isaiah 55:7 - "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." God will abundantly pardon! That's exactly what we need, and that's what He promises. Micah 7:19 - "...You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." When you throw something out into the sea, you won't see it again. That's the way it is with our sins when God forgives them. Finally, Hebrews 8:12 - "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." Complete forgiveness!
Now, tie these first two points together. God stated that these people were worthy of destruction, but if they would come and reason with Him--if they would see their sinfulness--then God would provide a way for them to escape it and be completely cleansed of it! The same is true today. We deserve destruction, but God has provided a way of salvation. However, there have always been requirements to be met before complete forgiveness is granted.
3. GOD'S REQUIREMENTS ARE ALWAYS CERTAIN.
"If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword" (Isa. 1:19,20). It's pretty hard to misunderstand that, isn't it? God promised Israel that they would have prosperity and peace if they were willing and obedient. On the other hand, if they rebelled, they would suffer at the hands of their enemies.
We need to understand that although these promises were given to ancient Israel, the principles still apply today. Every benefit we enjoy in this world comes to us as a blessing from God (James 1:17). Let's never forget that the God who gives it can also take it away. The vast majority of God's promises are conditional. We have no right to embrace His assurances unless we have accepted His requirements! God's conditions for Israel to have their sins made as white as snow were that they be "willing and obedient." God's forgiveness was complete, but only if His requirements were met.
Many today fail to comprehend this simple truth. They apparently believe that God is not very strict about His requirements or that He will make an exception for them. Essentially, they believe that the Lord's requirements are subjective and not absolute. However, they are wrong. God's requirements are certain and man can't change them. A person cannot expect to have God's blessing of forgiveness if he is not willing to obey God! It doesn't matter who you are or in what era you live, if you refuse to leave the path of disobedience you will never find forgiveness.
Jesus underscored this point on several occasions. Matthew 7:21 - "Not everyone who says unto Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." John 14:15 - "If you love Me, keep My commandments." The apostle John echoed these sentiments in I John 2:3,4 - "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." Doesn't it all make sense together? If we really love God, then we will want to obey Him, and it is reasonable that our Creator has certain expectations of us.
When God says something, He means it. When He says you must believe that Jesus is the Son of God in order to be saved, then that's what He means (John 8:24). When He says repent and be baptized to have your sins forgiven, then that's what He means (Acts 2:38). God's requirements are certain.
Isaiah gave a clear warning to the children of Israel who refused to obey God. The New Testament provides the same warning although it is even stronger - "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26,27). God desires that we obey Him.
4. GOD'S WORD IS ALWAYS FINAL.
Isaiah 1:20 concludes with this thought - "For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." It is unreasonable for anyone to reject the words of God, yet many reject His truth daily. I Corinthians 1:18 teaches - "The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing." Over the ages, ruined souls have doubted and denied the truth. But denying the truth doesn't destroy it! God's word still stands firm. The fact that many refuse to believe doesn't change it! "Let God be true but every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4). "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (II Tim. 2:13).
Perhaps you've seen the bumper sticker that says: "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!" Someone has suggested that it would be more correct to say: "God said it and that settles it, whether I believe it or not!" How true--God's word is final! What could be more certain than something which the Lord spoke? What could be more secure and sound than His holy word? It is the last word on any subject it addresses. It is "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). God's word will be the final word on the Day of Judgment. Jesus taught in John 12:48 - "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him - the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day."
The principles we have considered in this lesson are applicable in every age and are certainly seen in the New Testament. Let it be stressed that God never changes. He is always the same. He will not change to suit our desires and choices. If we are going to be saved, we have to change to please Him. It doesn't take a genius to understand God's word and what it requires of an individual. Common sense tells us that we ought to make things right with our Maker. Dear friends, your sins can be made white as snow. They can be washed away. Are you willing and obedient? All penitent believers should do what Saul of Tarsus did to become a Christian - "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins" (Acts 22:16).
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.