July 20, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)
“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.”
God is in the forgiveness business. But forgiveness of sins isn’t only for our benefit. It also sets us free to live according to God’s right standards, to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
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” (Isaiah 1:18).
Something becomes white, in this verse, as the result of deep cleansing. It’s what’s left of a white woolen garment when all 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, being white as snow 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, Hebrews 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.
Of course, as Christians, we recognize that our forgiveness comes through God’s grace in Jesus Christ. As it says in Ephesians: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8).
When God cleanses us of our sins, we are not just forgiven. We are also empowered to pursue God’s righteousness and justice with new freedom and joy. We are able to live more fully for God’s purposes in the world because our sin does not pull us away from what is right.
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?
How does God’s forgiveness set you free to pursue God’s righteousness?
Set aside some time to confess your sins to the Lord, opening your heart to receive his forgiveness.
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.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jesus’ Intercession Empowers Our Life and Work (Hebrews 7:1–10:18)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.