The people were delivered quite a blow by God’s indictment. In the midst of their seemingly orderly and pious society, God was calling out corruption, social and spiritual evils that had not in the least missed God’s notice, even though the people displayed a high level of religiosity.
What were the people to do?
“Repent,” was Isaiah’s message to them, from God’s lips to their ears.
Come to the Bench
At this point the Lord invited God’s people to have a personal dialogue with the Lord,
Come now, let us argue it out,Isaiah 1:18 (NRSV)
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
Come on up to the bench and let us talk, says God, as compassionate judge to the defendants.
Let us reason together.
Let us be logical about this.
What are you doing to yourselves?
You are being beaten black and blue by sin, the wounds of sin in your environment, in your justice system, your communities are like open and running sores. Why do you persist, when by repenting you could come to Me, and I could clean out the infection, bandage those sores, heal those wounds?
Sin Will Eat You Alive
This was the first part of God’s call to repentance. The people—and you and I today—need to understand the insidious and corruptive power of sin.
It Leads to Death
Remember the apostle Paul’s explanation of what sin is and does in his letter to the assemblies in Rome. Paul traced the progression of sin from fool to debauchery to degradation to degeneration to dissolution.
It matters not whether we know about the God of the Bible, or what is in the Bible. God has given every human being an innate sense to understand the difference between right and wrong. To go against our consciences is to sin against God.
The end result is always the same, Paul said.
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our LordRomans 6:23 (NRSV)
James spelled it all out.
No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then,
when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin,
and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved.James 1:13-16 (NRSV)
And Jesus Himself alluded to the very grave danger of sin, which at its core is the rejection of God.
So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.
What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.Jesus, Matthew 10:26-33 (NRSV)
It is not a saying of Jesus that we often hear or repeat. It is as startling and unsettling as the word God sent to the people through Isaiah.
I have often heard people explain Jesus is saying not to fear people but to fear God.
But I wonder if Jesus was saying not to fear those who do evil but rather to fear sin itself, for it indeed has the power to destroy both body and soul.
Turn From Death To Life
The Lord has made God’s intentions known—God finds no pleasure in the death of anyone, not even the wicked.
Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?Ezekiel 33:11 (NRSV)
God desires, actually, that no one should be destroyed by sin, but rather that all should be cleansed and brought to new life through repentance.
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.2 Peter 3:9 (NRSV)
Let Me take care of you, let Me restore you to the original purity I designed you to have.
God provided the people a prophetic guarantee. To repent is to be cleansed, God will do it, and it will be done.
This same promise shows up again in John’s first letter
If we confess our sins, [God] who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9 (NRSV)
Repentance or Rebellion?
Today, God gives you and me the same invitation to come back to the Lord.
If you are willing and obedient,Isaiah 1:19-20 (NRSV)
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.
Give up sin or it will eat you alive.
The reasonable choice is to turn away from sin and turn to God
The biggest obstacle to our spiritual progress is often that you and I feel healthy and successful, even though we really may not be.
Through Isaiah, God offers a personal invitation: God wants to pour God’s cleansing power into every person and make each of us clean again.
Repentance is pretty radical!
It means a complete change from the inside out, a profound recreation of our minds and hearts that involves more than to simply stop doing what is wrong, more than actively doing right, and more than trying to make amends.
Repentance involves a complete repudiation that turns both feet away from the direction we were going in, getting off of that path entirely, and getting onto a completely different path that is as radically other as could possibly be from the path we were on before.
This path that leads to God, it involves an overhaul of our entire person that is so radical and complete, that though our sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.