Come now, let us settle the matter, says the Lord.
Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20)
When we read Isaiah 1, there is a problem immediately evident. God’s analysis of the human race is that we are fundamentally tainted with self-centeredness so that we do not want to do good. We only want to minister to our own needs and our own lives. As a solution, God says in v. 16,
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good. But, the question arises, how can evil people do good things?
This question is answered in verses 18-20. It could not be put any plainer. There is no help in man himself. We cannot heal ourselves. We need more than our habits changed. We ourselves need to be changed, and that change can only occur in a relationship with the living God.
This is the good news, this is the gospel. It looks forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus and the shedding of his blood, his taking our place that God might put our sins upon him, and thus enable Jesus to give us the gift of righteousness, so that our hearts will be changed. Selfishness is not taken away but it is overcome by the gift of love. An old hymn we used to sing in Sunday school says this so well:
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow That makes me white as snow. No other fount I know. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Isaiah is true to his name:
Yahweh saves. Only he can do it. There may be some who have been attempting to clean up their own lives. Every so often people get the urge to stop doing things that obviously are hurting themselves and others. Yet it never seems to work. They may stop temporarily, but then another bad habit surfaces and soon they return to their old ways. There is no power to change. But the gospel, the beautiful good news, is that God has found a way to break through the human problem to give us a changed heart and teach us a new way of living.
Thank you, our Father, for this wonderfully forthright word, and for the good news that we are not left in our doleful, miserable condition. Thank you that you have broken through into our lives by means of the Lord Jesus, by his death and resurrection, and by your indwelling are making us different.