Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. – Isaiah 64:5b-7 ESV
Isaiah was brutally honest in his assessment of the condition of God’s people. It was not a pretty picture. He had just finished saying, “You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways” (Isaiah 64:5a ESV), but then he had to sadly acknowledge that no one in Judah fit that description. God was going to meet them, but it would not be a joyful occasion, because of their sins. God was angry with them, and rightfully so. They just couldn’t seem to stop sinning, and Isaiah couldn’t think of a reason why God would ever want to save them. Their sins had left them unclean, like a leper banned from access to the temple of God. They were impure, unholy, and unable to come into the presence of God. But Isaiah uses even more graphic language to describe the nature of their sin. All their activities, even their so-called righteous ones, were like soiled menstrual rags – unclean, unacceptable, and repulsive to the sight of God. Like a leaf fallen from a tree, they were lifeless and easily carried away by the winds of sin.
Isaiah paints a bleak, yet honest, picture. He knew all too well just how bad things had gotten in Judah. He had been trying to get their attention. He had been warning them of God’s pending judgment. But no one had listened. They had even stopped calling out to God. They couldn’t even seem to rouse themselves from their sinful stupor long enough to lift a hand in God’s direction. From the human perspective, it was as if God had hidden Himself from them. But it was their sin that had created a barrier between them and God. He was still there. He was ready to respond as soon as they were willing to repent. But their constant state of sin had left them in a sorry condition. They were separated from God and unable to do anything to remedy their problem. In fact, God had given them over to their sin. He had allowed them to reap the consequences of their choices. They were experiencing the consequences of their sin.
The apostle Paul describes a similar situation in his letter to the Romans. “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:21-23 NLT). Rather than worship God, they created their own gods. They came up with gods who would approve of their sin and validate their selfish desires. As a result, God let them have exactly what they wanted. “So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT). That verse should send shudders down the spine of every believer. The very thought of God abandoning us to do what our hearts desire should scare us. Our natural man, left to its own devices, will always choose the wrong path. Our old nature, motivated by pride, lust, greed, and selfishness, will always gravitate toward rebellion against God. Even as redeemed children of God, we must never lose sight of the fact that our capacity to sin remains within us. It is only our dependence upon God and our reliance upon His indwelling Spirit that gives us the ability to live righteously instead of sinfully. Paul reminds us, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT).
Sin is a constant threat to the child of God. We have our old sinful nature to deal with. We live in a hostile world that is opposed to us and intent on destroying us. We have an enemy who can’t stand us and who is out to steal, kill and destroy. While our sins can never separate us from the love of God or cause us to lose our salvation, they can destroy our joy, rob us of peace, damage our witness, harden our hearts, limit our effectiveness, and harm the reputation of God. There is nothing more sad than a child of God whose life doesn’t reflect his position. We have been redeemed by God through the blood of Jesus Christ and are intended to live lives that reflect our new-found status as sons and daughters of God. We have the Spirit of God living within us and the Word of God to guide us. We have been placed within the body of Christ and been given spiritual gifts designed to minister to one another so that we might grow in Christ-likeness. But sin can and will wreak havoc on our spiritual lives if we allow it to. If we give in to our sinful nature, we will reap the consequences. That’s why our constant dependence upon God is so important. Paul put it this way: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:2 NLT). I can choose to live as one unclean or as one who has been cleansed by the blood of Christ. I can give in to my old sinful nature or I can live in constant reliance upon the will of God with the help of the Spirit of God.