Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Sermons Theology

Isaiah 1-2 How God Sees Sin

This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.

One of the keys to being victorious in our struggle with sin, is to see it from God’s perspective.  From our perspective, we may see sin as either a regrettable occurrence, or a nagging problem, or even just a simple nuisance.  But how does God see our sin?  I believe Isaiah 1-2  gives us three answers to that question.


1.  God sees the PERVASIVENESS of our sin. 

In Isaiah 1:1-8, Isaiah the prophet describes a vision he has concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  In verses 2-4 God makes various statements about Israel that I believe prophetically refer to all of us,

“Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me, The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly!  They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

We need to hear these words as spoken to us.  God is revealing to us who we are.  Like the doctor who examines his patient, God is examining us, and he not only sees our sin, he sees the pervasiveness of our sin. 

Listen again to what he says in v. 5b-6

“The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint.  From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.”

God is showing us that we are not just mostly good people who have made a few mistakes.  We are not healthy people who have a problem in one area of our body.  We are not injured people, who are recovering from a few unfortunate wounds.  We don’t just have the occasional arrhythmia in the heart, or a few troublesome blood clots in our brain.  The whole head is sick.  The whole heart is faint.  From the sole of your foot to the crown of your head, there is no soundness, no health.

What does it matter if you are dying of cancer or dying of heart disease, or dying of old age?  You’re dying!  And what God is saying here is that we have cancer and heart disease and old age.  “There is no soundness in us, from the sole of the foot even to the head.”   We are completely and totally sinful.

God is describing, through his prophet, the pervasiveness of our sin!  With vivid word pictures, he reveals our utter depravity as sinners.  Twice in verse 7, he describes Israel as desolate.  The word means, “a wasteland”.  It paints a picture of a desert, where there is no life, no water.  Just dry, empty, and devoid of life.

We may be tempted to think, “yeah, but that is describing what we were before Jesus saved us.  In Christ, we are saints!”  Yes, its true that the Bible teaches that, in Christ, we are saints, but I think it is rather obvious that just believing that we are saints doesn’t automatically free us from a very real struggle with sin that if we are honest, all of us as believers still deal with…

Does a saint lie?  Does a saint bite the head off her kids?  Does a saint watch questionable things on TV?  Does a saint go to God-dishonoring websites? Is a saint drawn toward sin like a moth is drawn to a flame?  Does a saint feel deep-seated bitterness and lack of forgiveness welling up inside like an uncontrollable flood?  Does a saint callously disregard the needs of those around him in order to focus on his own petty desires? Do saints get impatient over a 3 minute wait at the McDonald’s drive through?

Make no mistake about it.  You and I are sinners!  We may be sinners saved by grace, and there is more that remains to be said about our identity, but the fact that this is describing who we are is beyond dispute.  God is speaking to his people here.  He is not just describing the pagan nations around them.  This is his people who have been established in the Promised Land, who have been redeemed from slavery in Egypt, who have been given the sacrifices and the blood of atonement, and yet God says to them, I see only bruises and sores and raw wounds.  God sees the pervasiveness of our sin.

2.  God sees that the sinner must be REJECTED.

Jump ahead to Isaiah 2:6

For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east and of fortune tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners.  

As I reflected on that verse, I asked the Lord, “How can you say that?  How can you say that you reject your covenant people?  The ones to whom you have promised redemption and forgiveness and an eternal inheritance?  

But it’s not just here that we read verses like this.  The are several places in the Old Testament prophets showing that this is indeed how a just and holy God responds to sin.  He rejects the sinner. Listen to just two:

2 Kings 21:14

And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.

Jeremiah 7:29

Cut off your hair and cast it away; raise a lamentation on the bare heights, for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath.

You may have noticed that I did not say God sees that sin must be rejected, but that the sinner must be rejected  We’re so used to saying, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.”  And that is profoundly true, when rightly explained,

But it is also profoundly true that sin cannot be separated from the one who commits it.  Without sinners there would *be* no sin.  Can we really separate sinful deeds from the sinners who commit those sinful deeds? To speak of judging and condemning a sinful act is meaningless if there is no judgement of the one who committed that act.   If a murder has been committed, there is no justice done in condemning the act of murder, if the murderer himself is not declared guilty and required to pay the penalty for his sin.

So when we talk about sin from God’s perspective, we have to understand that God always rejects the sinner!  Even when the sinner is his covenant people Israel.  Even when the sinner is you and me.  

Now that statement might seem to present a problem to you, just as it did to me!  How can God reject his own children as it says here in v. 6, “You have rejected your people, the house of Jacob.” That brings us to the third answer  to the question, “How does God see sin.” 

3.  God sees the SOLUTION to our sin

Going back to chapter 1 of Isaiah we find some very good news.  Isaiah 1:18

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Praise God that Isaiah doesn’t speak of sin without also speaking of grace!  God has a solution to this problem of sin.  And let me just point out that I am using the word “problem” here from our perspective.  Our God is not a God who has to confront “problems”.  God never has to solve anything, as if something could come up that he wasn’t expecting.  But from our perspective, we have a problem:  Our sin is pervasive.  The whole body is sick!  We are absolute sinners, and God will reject the sinner from his presence.

And yet at the same time that he says to his people, “I will reject you”, he also says, I will never forsake you.  Listen to these verses:  Both using the exact same hebrew word translated “reject” in Isaiah 2:6

1 Sam. 12:22

For the Lord will not forsake (reject) his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.

Psalm 94:14

For the Lord will not forsake (reject) his people; he will not abandon his heritage;

How is it that God can keep his word and reject the sinner in his sin, and yet also say that he will never forsake him?      Here’s the answer from the lips of Jesus, our Savior:

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”

Jesus was rejected in our place.  Let this sink in!  You and I are sinners, together we have become worthless (says Romans 3:12).  We are worthy of being eternally and finally rejected in our sins, and yet Jesus was rejected in our place.  Jesus, the suffering servant described in such detail later in Isaiah, is our salvation.  He is our victory.  Jesus is the answer to our struggle with sin, because he was rejected for us.

So how does God see sin?  He sees the pervasiveness of our sin (theologians call it “total depravity”).  He sees that the sinner must be rejected.  And so his very Son was forsaken on the cross in your place.  Jesus died so that your sinful self might be forever and completely rejected.   Only when you see sin from this perspective will you begin to experience victory over it.  In a future post, I want to apply this a bit more and talk about some practical things we can do to see sin from God’s perspective.

This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Theology

Plumbing the depths of mercy and grace

I was thinking today about the difficulty we have in truly understanding the extent of God’s mercy and grace toward his children.  

Let’s start with some definitions:  By mercy, I’m referring to God’s love expressed in his not treating us as we deserve to be treated.  By grace, I’m referring to God’s love expressed in his giving us what we don’t deserve to receive.  The Newsboys say it well…

When we don’t get what we deserve… it’s a real good thing…

When we get what we don’t deserve… it’s a real good thing…

The first line is mercy; the second is grace. 

Now, the problem lies in trying to comprehend the extent of God’s mercy and grace to us.  In order to fully grasp God’s mercy, we must be able to fully comprehend what we deserve from God.  Because we have difficulty fully grasping the wrath of God against sin, we struggle to fully appreciate the mercy God shows us when he saves us from that wrath.  

There are two primary places we can look in order to grasp more fully God’s mercy:  The Cross of Christ, where God’s wrath was put on Jesus as our substitute, and Hell, where God’s wrath will be poured out on unrepentant sinners for all eternity.  Both of these are revealed to us in the Scripture, and we have access to them as we meditate on Scripture and are taught by the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, in order to fully grasp God’s grace, we must be able to fully comprehend what we have received from God.  I believe that just as we struggle to comprehend God’s wrath,  we also struggle to fully appreciate just what we have received in our salvation.

Our salvation is so much more than just God’s merciful forgiveness of our sins.  He doesn’t just forgive us and then let us start over again to prove our ability to serve him and follow him as our God.  He heaps upon us blessing after blessing, by virtue of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ.  In Christ, we receive what Jesus deserves.  This is the “spiritual inheritance” that is mentioned so often in the Bible.

Only in eternity will we be able to fully grasp God’s grace because we will experience in heaven the fullness of our salvation.  We will receive our spiritual inheritance that right now is “kept in heaven” for us (1 Peter 1:4).

Only in eternity will we be able to fully grasp God’s mercy because we will witness God’s righteous judgment of unbelievers. Revelation 14:9-10 says, 

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

 We will be “in Christ” for all eternity, and in his presence, we will see what we deserve to receive, and I believe we will appreciate the cross as never before.  This idea seemed very radical to me when I first read it in one of Jonathan Edward’s  sermons, but I believe Edwards is faithfully teaching us what God has revealed in his Word.

Bible Study Cross-Centered Life Sermons Theology

Romans 1:18-25 Why is thanklessness a sin?

This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.

In the first chapter of Romans, Paul mentions a huge sinful failure that we too often overlook:  the failure to give thanks to God.  Romans 1:21

For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him…  

Why is the failure to give thanks a sin?  OK, we might accept it as a rather menial sin of omission, but in the context of Romans 1, Paul mentions this as part of his explanation for the wrath of God that is being revealed against all the godlessness and unrighteousness of men.  So what is the big deal about failing to give thanks?

First some background… In Romans 1 Paul talks about the sin of the gentiles and how their unrighteousness deserves God’s wrath.  In chapter 2, he moves on to the religious Jews, and shows how they too are under God’s wrath.  In chapter 3, he pulls it all together and in one tremendous passage concludes that there is no one righteous, not even one.  We are all deserving of God’s wrath–his righteous judgement of sin.

That is the overarching teaching of Romans 1-3.  We deserve the wrath of God because of our sin.  But as we look more closely at the individual facets of Paul’s argument for the justness of God’s wrath upon the human race, there is much we can learn about the different ways our sinful condition manifests itself in our lives.

And as I have meditated on Romans 1:21, I have asked myself this question:

Why does the failure to give thanks bring God’s wrath upon the gentiles? 

It really is amazing, that of all the sins that Paul could have mentioned here as being foundational to the condemnation of the pagan gentiles, he mentions the failure to give thanks. Why is this?  And what can I learn from this to apply to my own sinful, unthankful heart?

I think a good place to start in our understanding of this verse is to try to understand better what “giving thanks” is.  I read through the different places that this verb is used in the New Testament and came up with this definition:

We give thanks when we acknowledge the goodness of another

as it is expressed to us in real benefits.

When I first began to work on this definition, I used the term “tangible benefits”, but I soon changed that because “tangible” means that we can touch them.  But what I am trying to communicate through the term “real benefits” is that thankfulness is not just a vague, general sort of thing, but is always related to some specific benefit or blessing that is very real and concrete.  Forgiveness is not “tangible” but it is a very “real benefit.”  Food to eat is tangible, and is also a very real benefit.  Both are things for which we should be thankful.

Let me just quickly show you some of the occurrences in the New Testament that led me to this definition:

  • Jesus gave thanks to the Father for the bread and fish before serving the multitudes.
  • He gave thanks to the Father before giving the bread and wine to his disciples at the Last Supper.
  • In Luke 17, the one leper of the ten who were healed fell on his face and gave thanks to Jesus for his healing.
  • Paul often began his letters giving thanks to God for the church to whom he was writing.
  • In Rev. 11, the 24 elders fall on their faces and give thanks to the Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign!

Do you see the pattern?  Thankfulness is always expressed FOR something.  For food, or for healing, or for other Christians, or even for Jesus himself and for the exercise of his reign.

But it is also an important part of the definition that thankfulness is always TO someone.  This is fairly obvious, but for thanksgiving to occur, there must be something that one is thankful for, and there must also be someone that one is thankful to.

If a child gets a gift on his birthday, it is possible for him to be enamored with that gift and enjoying that gift and really happy that he has that gift….there is something that he is glad FOR… but if that gladness and joy is not expressed TO someone, then we reprimand that child for being thankless.

On the other hand, imagine that I am watching a documentary on TV about a wealthy man who has millions and has done all kinds of amazing things with his money.  I may be able to admire that man as someone fabulously wealthy, but it is meaningless to say that I am thankful toward him until he pays my mortgage!  If there have been no real, tangible benefits that have come my way from him, I can’t be thankful to him.  So, here’s the definition again…

We give thanks when we acknowledge the goodness of another

as it is expressed to us in real benefits.

When Paul condemns the pagan gentiles for their failure to “give thanks” to God, he is saying first of all that there has been some very real benefit that has come to them.

Often when we study this passage, we look at what it says about God being revealed in the creation and say that the gentiles should have seen in the stars and the sun and the earth around them that there IS a Creator God.  They should have recognized Jehovah as God.  And that is certainly true, but Paul adds that not only should they have honored God as God, they should have given thanks to Him.

Thankfulness has an added dimension that praise and giving honor don’t.  That added dimension is the benefit received.  Not only is God, God, but he blesses mankind tremendously.  The fact that Paul impunes them for their lack of thanks, implies that there were benefits that came to them.

So what benefits came to the gentiles?  Turn to Acts 17.  Here Paul is also speaking to pagan gentiles and there are lots of parallels between what he says in Rom. 1 about gentiles, and what he says in Acts 17:24-25 to them

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything…

That pretty much sums up the very real benefit that the gentiles had received from God:  their very existence!  their life, their breath… indeed everything that they have and enjoy and experience comes from him.  

So Paul is saying far more here than simply that the gentiles should have recognized the existence of God through the creation.  He is saying, “you gentiles owe EVERYTHING to God, and you have not thanked him for giving you everything pertaining to your existence.”

But that still doesn’t seem to me to answer why their failure to give thanks resulted in God’s wrath.  And that’s why we have to continue our analysis in light of the first part of the definition of “giving thanks”.  Thankfulness is always expressed FOR something, but also TO someone.  Appreciating blessings and benefits is meaningless if it isn’t directed to someone.  As the definition says:  We give thanks when we acknowledge the goodness of another as it is expressed to us in real benefits.

If the Gentiles had only failed to recognize the REAL BENEFITS, that would have been bad enough, but not only did they do that, they ENJOYED those benefits while denying the goodness of the one who GAVE the benefits.

Remember what the Israelites did when they were in the desert on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  It was bad enough when they complained against God because there was no food, but it was even worse when they complained against God after he had given them manna from heaven!  They were enjoying his blessing, but denying his goodness.  

A thankful person isn’t just someone who is glad he has a benefit or a blessing to enjoy, rather he is one who ACKNOWLEDGES the goodness of the ONE who does the blessing.

Did you ever stop to think that it is impossible to be thankful to something inanimate.  You can’t be thankful to your house for keeping you warm in the winter.  You can be thankful to God for giving you the house, but you can’t be thankful to the house.  The house isn’t keeping you warm because of its kind and benevolent character!

God showed himself in the creation to the Gentiles, and gave them the blessings and benefits of their existence, NOT just so that they could receive the benefits as an end in themselves, but so that they would see his goodness and his glory.   

When the pagan gentiles failed to honor God as God and failed to see that he had blessed them, they were denying the goodness of God!  Everything around us in the creation proclaims the infinite goodness of God!  To reject that and to scorn the Giver of life and existence is to scorn his infinite goodness.  Scorning an infinite God is an infinite sin, and one that is worthy of infinite condemnation!

The later post, The Blessing of Giving Thanks, continues with more thoughts from Romans 1:18-25

This post is based on a SERMON that is available by clicking here.