How low does sin take you? How deep can its degradation go in your life? How lost and helpless are you, outside the miracle of God’s saving love in Christ?
The Bible teaches the doctrine which has come to be titled the Doctrine of Total Depravity. This is a much-misunderstood doctrine, and a much-opposed one by people who have never really seen their own hearts. The doctrine does not teach that we are as wicked as we can be. It does teach, as the Bible clearly does, that we have a nature which has been corrupted by sin in every part of us. Sin, that controlling power of disobedience, has seeped into every pore of who we are, in our loves, hates, desires, thoughts, words and actions. If you think you can save yourself, you just haven’t begun to engage with your sin, and your powerlessness. If you even think that you can choose Christ for yourself, then you’ve no idea of how much sin has captured your mind, heart and will. To choose Christ, we first need the power of Christ, working to free us, so that we want Him, and can come to Him. And God can do just that work in any heart He chooses to work in. As Isaiah puts it, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear” (59.1).
Isaiah’s burden is to lay their plight before the Israelites. They are separated from God (v.2), their sin has turned His face from them (v.2), they are polluted (v.3), wicked, evil-speaking, eager to sin, plotting sin, and entirely without the peace of God (vv.3-8). You could call this gloomy, negative, or extreme; but if you know your heart, if the Spirit of God has shone His light into you, to bring self-understanding and conviction (John 16.8), you know that God’s Word is true, and that God’s Word convicts, before it converts.
Isaiah speaks about this conviction: his people are stumbling in darkness (vv.9-10), and know the misery of living in their sin (v.11). They know that they are sinners in the hands of a holy, and an angry, God (vv.12-15). Isaiah longs, though, that they would discover that God has taken their sins into His own hands, and fought to overcome the very plight which would kill them: “He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so His own arm achieved salvation for Him, and His own righteousness sustained Him” (v.16). These are stunning words. They teach us the heart of God, the plan of God, and the work of God. In Jesus God steps in to save. He comes with zeal, brings wrath and achieves salvation (vv.16-18). He is the Lord, and He is the Saviour. And He is altogether glorious, as people across the whole world are discovering (v.19).
It is against this background – the plight of our wretchedness and the promise of God’s glory – that the start of chapter 60 is so obviously wonderful:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (60.1-3). The whole chapter throbs with promise, assurance, joy and triumph. In the forefront is Jerusalem and God’s ancient nation, being built up, gaining riches, fame, the attention of the nations, as God works for her (vv.4-22). The promise has its greater fulfilment in the church of Jesus Christ, a people being built up through God’s protecting love and power. And all of this blessing comes, of course, because of Jesus. Jesus, the Resurrection Man, defies despair, and ushers in a new world of grace and hope. Choose Him, and find life.