"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 as red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Isaiah 1:18 NIV
Are my sins like scarlet? Is the account of my life written in red, like an old-fashioned bank account that had gone overdrawn?
This was spoken to people who had a covenant established with God. He would be their God, they would be His people. There were certain standards of behaviour that marked them out from the pagan (and brutal) nations that surrounded them, but the main one was, first and foremost, devotion to the real, present and one God, Yahweh. And absolutely not putting trust in idols, customs and superstitions that took the place of God.
Surely, our situation is very different. Few reading this will be of Jewish descent. Hindu temples apart, worship of multiple deities is rare in the western hemisphere. Most of us are offended by white supremacy, racist behaviour, oppression of the poor and corruption and we have alternatives, including a long-established system of law and order and government that represents the whole population.
Most people have some sort of awareness that God exists (if remotely) and we live in a 'Christian' country which means we have some kind of spiritual birthright and protection (looked after on our behalf by church and priests, so we want to keep the church open even if we hardly ever attend).
There are two common fallacies which are part of our inherited 'folk religion'. These are beliefs that are caught, rather than taught, and are part of a generally shared way of life. The churches and schools of this supposedly 'Christian' country have not, on the whole, done a great job of presenting the good news of the Christian faith simply and clearly.
The first fallacy is that we are miserable sinners, living without hope in a state of condemnation. And so, we need to be reminded of that often, and the words of formal religion recited in a cold and uncomfortable church building are a kind of penance which is good for our souls. There are certain pious rituals, including the assumed merit of good works, which help us to live with our guilt (but they don't remove it — come back next week for another reminder).
The second fallacy is that sin is an outdated concept; thankfully we are a bit more enlightened now. Following this, if we do our best to live a decent and considerate life, that's good enough. The world is kinder to winners than losers, and we should make our own success. Really, we can do what feels good to us as long as we don't hurt others too much along the way.
Often we acquire a belief system that includes bit of both.
The verse seems to support the first fallacy: "Your sins are like scarlet", they are glaringly obvious. It also could support the second, in that it implies a softening and resolution of what was glaringly wrong: "They shall be as white a snow... they shall be like wool."
Seven hundred years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah had a heavenly glimpse of the salvation that was to come through God's Son (Isaiah 9:6) and specially anointed Saviour. We have had two thousand years of living in the knowledge of who Jesus is, together with the multiple copies of original documents written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by God's special envoys of that time. And all of this, from long before Jesus, and reflecting long afterwards, point to the almost unbelievable Good News of what God has done for us. This can be understood and the benefit secured, by anyone who takes a step of faith to believe beyond what they can understand or prove in the natural way, and receive Jesus and what He has done.
Then the first fallacy is seen for what it is. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is what Christian life and faith, rather than so-called Christian religion. celebrates. Turning to Jesus, recognising our need, and accepting how He has met that need, is a step into new life with a new spiritual start and spiritual dimension (John 3:5-8, 14-17).
And the second fallacy is dealt with through this truth. Yes, we were caught up in our own love of independence, and that by definition is a form of rebellion against God, who wants to love and protect and supply us in all of life, an unconditional and hugely generous transaction which simply requires us to ask and trust. That, of course, spells dependence, and an end to our self-sufficiency and independence. There's a part of us which doesn't like that idea! But what's not to like about dependence on a God of such love and goodness and generosity, who allows us free will in how we use what He gives us.
We want to come to a God, who is love, to settle the broken parts of our relationship — and we may need to do the "settling" often and keep short accounts. We recognise in our human nature we are independent, selfish and we do offend God — it is clear enough to Him. But we are also deeply grateful that He has made a way out for us in Jesus. Our sins, past present and also future, have a remedy at the Cross, stained with His blood, the place where He paid the great price for us long before we ever knew Him.
This is good news! We are invited to settle the matter, and we can, because our debt has been paid: by Jesus.