18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.
– Isaiah 1:18 NASB
25 “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.
26 “Put Me in remembrance, let us argue our case together; State your cause, that you may be proved right.
– Isaiah 43:25-26 NASB
15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.
– Isaiah 49:15-16 NASB
If you are a determined preacher of grace, Isaiah is throwing you one softball after another. What incredible gooey gospel goodness is hidden in these glorious pages! I wanted to post about something that hit me recently.
God who forgets
God says that He – with emphasis (“I, even I”) is the one who wipes out our transgressions. We do not wipe them out through our repentance or contrition or our progressive sanctification. No, He, and only He, is the one who wipes them out. We want to take credit for this through our heroic righteous efforts, but we do that for our own sakes. Yet God says, I even I wipe them out, for My own sake! So we can rest from our frightened and frenetic self-improvement failures, and allow that God will wipe them out.
You know why this is such great news for you? Because if you come with your own works in your hands, if you come saying “Lord Lord didn’t I” (Matthew 7:21-23), it means you come remembering your sins. Search yourself and see how strange it seems to think that your sins should be wiped out. You would not feel the need to present your works as a defense or a reason for your acceptance if you didn’t think God was still mindful of your sins. But your flesh secretly thinks that God remembers your sins. It takes faith to think this great wiping of your sins is true because it is not a natural thought. But according to the scripture, it is true! He has wiped them out! They’re gone! Drop it! You’re arguing with God over something that He has taken care of in His own wisdom and power. Come empty and expect to be loved and accepted.
Let’s be clear about what He means when He says He will “wipe them out.” He doesn’t mean He will cause us to repent and become legalistically successful. Maybe He’ll do that, but that isn’t what He is talking about here. He is talking about your present guilt. He is talking about the remission of your existing sin. He is talking about wiping out the mess you’ve already made. He is not demanding change here. He is declaring an all-encompassing release from guilt.
Let’s also notice something: He does not say that He cannot remember your sins. He damn well could remember them if He wanted to (and I mean damn in a careful theological sense!). But this is stronger than that. God, who created the universe with a word and who created all life on earth, has determined that He will not remember your sins. It is a high wall with sentries and barbed wire, an impenetrable barrier. He is not going to let them be remembered or spoken of. God, the judge of all flesh and the Creator of the universe, is quite determined about this. He has been thinking about how best to accomplish this since the foundation of the cosmos (Ephesians 1:4). Your sins are not just forgiven. They are wiped out. It is past tense because He has already moved on, and His perspective happens to be the correct perspective. If someone tries to bring them up and press charges, they are not just talking to a brick wall. They are talking to God almighty with infinite resources at the ready, who is determined to defend His own decision. He will not remember your sins, and thus your sins will not be remembered.
Here is an incredible mystery for you, on reflection: it doesn’t say He remembers them but that He won’t bring it up any more. He will not remember them. They are gone from His infinite and perfect mind. If the devil or someone brings them up, He is going to say, “What do you think you are talking about? I remember none of this. I suggest you stop talking.” I think we have no real idea how strong a defense we have from God the Creator. Our sins are not simply remembered and forgiven. They are wiped clean. History has been retroactively changed for you. The crimson-dyed wool has been set back to its virgin state. He has determined it. How this can be, I do not understand, but it is so. It is written. It is true. You will retain your true identity but your history has already been retroactively changed. God is smart enough to do this.
If you think about it, if God says something never happened, doesn’t that pretty much make it real? If God wipes something away, did it ever exist? If He forgets it, did it ever happen at all? Do you think He is smart enough and powerful enough to accomplish something like this? It seems like a silly question doesn’t it? I don’t presume to know such things, but the language in these verses is pretty suggestive.
Notice where it says “I wiped out some of your transgressions, but not those really bad ones.” Did you see that there? No, of course not! That is not what it says. How many of your transgressions were in the future when God conceived of your salvation? Let me help you with that: ALL OF THEM. You may have trouble believing that all of your sins, even your future sins, have been wiped clean and completely forgotten forever, but this does not depend on you. “I, even I, am the one…”
Also, notice where it says, “God has wiped out my (relatively minor) transgressions, but can you believe what that other guy did!? We can’t let him get away with that!” You didn’t notice that? That’s because it isn’t what it says. It says that He wiped out “your” – plural – transgressions. He has redeemed the entire lot of us. He is rich in mercy and lavish in grace (Ephesians 1:7,8). He is going to make everything sad come untrue for all of us together.
Amazingly, the first question Isaiah asks in Isaiah 53:1 is “Who has believed our message?” Sola Fide, millennia before the reformation. Mere belief is utterly central. The question isn’t this: “who is worthy to have the strong arm of the Lord revealed to them?” We know the answer to that: no one is worthy (Revelation 5:9). The question is, “who has believed our message?” So who gets all of their guilty history erased? Who gets to see this incredible display of God’s power? The one who believes the message.
Ironically, the problem here is that we forget God. “Put me in remembrance…” (Isaiah 43:26). How quickly and easily we forget and neglect so great a salvation! (Hebrews 2:3) How quickly we think our own deeds make us worthy, that through our repentance and our deeds we wipe out our own transgressions before Him! How quickly we forget that God powerfully forgets our sins! But He forgives even this. He bids us to remember that He forgets it all.
God who remembers
When God searches the universe for the most relevant metaphor for faithful love, He lands on the bond between a mother and her nursing child. Can a nursing mother forget her beautiful infant? It is unlikely! But this is planet earth, and it could happen. She might forget her newborn. But greater than this bond, God has promised that He will not forget us. With the same power and strength with which He created the universe, and with which He forgets our sins, He declares that He will not forget us. He will remember you. You are seen, all of your struggles and pain and faithfulness – everything except your sin. It seems too good to be true! But this is God. Nothing is more true.
How incredible that He says, hundreds of years before it happened, that we are engraved on the palms of His hands! Forever He stands on the throne a lamb as if slain. Forever He stands as the pierced One who has forever loved us. He is saying in the most tender and forceful and convincing language possible that He cherishes us and loves us in an unbreakable and unshakeable way.
So what shall we way to these things? How shall we then live? Always the Romans 6 question: “shall we sin all the more that grace might increase?” If God has wiped our slate so clean, and has promised to remember us with tenderness forever, what could motivate us? Think about it like this. If you woke up one morning, and suddenly it happened that all your past mistakes were wiped out, and you could do no wrong, what would you do? Because this is what has happened to you. This is the impossible saving miracle that has come upon you. Stop living in fear because perfect persistent eternal unkillable love has come upon you! It is not a safe and cloistered miracle. It is vats of wine offered to those already drunk. It is an ocean of freedom, a mountain of grace. You have come, not to a new and more stringent law, but to freedom and love and lavish grace! You are beloved beyond all imagining by the very Creator of the universe. Walk in joy and freedom! Walk in a manner worthy of your incredible calling!