From Red to White

April 25, 2017 • Life for Leaders

“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.”

Isaiah 1:18


A red poppy in a field of white flowers.Even in the first chapter of Isaiah, where the emphasis is upon God’s call to Israel to obedience, we are also reminded that God alone can forgive sins. God is the one who can take our scarlet sins and make them “white as snow” (1:18).

Whiteness, in this verse, is the result of deep cleansing. It’s what’s left of a white garment when all of the grit is washed away. Given the racial overtones of color language in our culture, it’s important to note that whiteness has nothing to do with one’s skin color. Isaiah and his people were relatively dark skinned, after all. They thought of whiteness as something belonging to snow and cotton. By analogy, whiteness is a matter, not actually of appearance, but rather of the heart.

What is the connection between sin and scarlet? The context in Isaiah suggests a close association between sin and blood. In verses 15 and 16 of chapter 1 we read, “Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.” The sins of the Israelites were scarlet in that their hands were bloody with their works of violence and injustice.

Ironically, sin and blood are also closely related because the shedding of blood is required for divine forgiveness (for example, Heb 9:22). In the Old Testament era, animal blood from sacrifices signified God’s forgiveness. For those of us in the New Covenant, the shed blood of Christ cleanses away the scarlet of our sins and leaves us fully clean, forgiven, and pure as freshly fallen snow.


What do you do with your sins? Do you rationalize them? Do you try to hide them? Ignore them? Minimize them? Do you try to get rid of them by your own strength? Or do you rest upon the forgiving work of God in Christ?

When and how have you experienced God’s cleansing of your sins?


Gracious God, it is true today even as in the time of Isaiah: you are the only one who can make our scarlet sins white as snow. Through the shed blood of your Son, we are forgiven and made clean. What a marvelous gift! What a wonder!

Help us, dear Lord, to live each day with reliance upon your forgiveness. When we sin, may we turn to you for forgiveness. When we’re tempted, may we reach out to your Spirit for the strength to choose what is right. Let us live, Lord, in the purity you have given us through Christ. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryArrogant Pride and Self-Sufficiency (Isaiah 2ff.)



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