Let God Prove Your Guilt So You Can Be Found “Not Guilty.”
The Book of Isaiah is God’s court case against covenant breaking Israel. In the beginning of the book in 1:18 God says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Many look to this passage as a basis for using logic and reason to talk about God. That is not found in the context or the words being used. The word for “reason” in terms of logic is seen in Genesis 6:5. Here the word for “reason” means more to contend, argue a case, or litigate. Micah 6:2 brings this out. “Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel.” God is taking Israel to court because they have broken his covenant and their sins are as red as blood stained hands.
The people thought that by being religious and offering sacrifices they were covered. But God says he despises sacrifices offered in this way. I have found that people engaged in blatant sin often become very concerned with the details of ceremony and ritual. How blatant was their sin? God calls them Sodom and Gomorrah for starters. (1:9-10) Isaiah observes that if God in his grace had not preserved a few survivors, like the 10 righteous Abraham argued for in Genesis 19:24-25, then God would have destroyed them like he had Sodom and Gomorrah. That is very serious indeed. Sodom and Gomorrah’s sexual sins are legendary, but their sin was not limited to gross immorality. It spilled over into issues of justice as well. Again comparing Judah to Sodom God says through the prophet Ezekiel, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (16:49) This issue is part of God’s indictment in Isaiah as well. Right before God calls on them to defend their case for sinning He says “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (1:16-17) Israel’s sins were serious indeed.
But God does not bring them to court to prove their guilt and punish them. He brings them to court to make them clean. The reasoning, the litigation, will prove that their sins are scarlet and crimson red like blood on their guilty hands. But the good news is in the word “though.” God says that though this is the case, he will make their sins white like snow. If they will accept God’s indictment on their sins that they are guilty and repent, he will declare them not guilty. To be found not guilty of sin in God’s eyes we must first be found guilty of sin in our eyes. When we recognize that we are guilty, we will repent and turn from our sin and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. He promises that those who do so will be found “not guilty” in a sense: forgiven and cleansed.
But this is not saying that our repentance and doing good earns forgiveness from God. Forgiveness always comes from God’s grace and mercy. Remember, grace is getting what we do not deserve, forgiveness and mercy is not getting what we do deserve; punishment. God has already made clear in the context that any response to him begins with an action of grace for us. Isaiah says that those who were faithful to God remained so because God had “left us” a few survivors. Paul picks this verse as an example of God’s grace to save his remnant people in Romans 9. Salvation is all of God’s grace and mercy and not any of our own doing. Romans 9:16 says, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God who has mercy.”
But this verdict of “not guilty” does not come from a mere declaration of God, but Isaiah shows how God brings it about by putting the punishment we deserve on another; the Lord’s Servant in Isaiah 53. Verses 4-5 say, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” We know from Acts 8:32-33 that this speaks of Jesus, he is the Servant of the Lord who suffers our punishment for us. He takes our guilt and its punishment away from us.
When I was in seminary in the 80’s I hunted ducks and fished at Lake Fork about 70 miles from home. Early one morning on a hunting trip, I failed to see the slow down speed limit sign and was given a ticket. Then the officer told me to be in Judge Wilberforce’s court at 7 P.M. on Friday, January 14th. I thought it was strange to hold court on Friday night. I told Jeanette to come with me and we would find a small-town diner and make a date of it. I was going to request to take a defensive driving class to cover the ticket. We arrived on time and the waiting room was full. They processed the more serious offenses like marijuana possession first. I will never forget what I saw when we entered the court. Judge Wilberforce was sitting at a desk with two armed officers wearing sunglasses (inside at night) behind him. I thought, “this will be fun.” We approached the bench and my wife said something cheerful about once living in the area and she and Judge Wilberforce then talked for five minutes. When he addressed me, I made my request and it was granted and he went right back to talking to my sweet wife. I was not punished because of the character and position of someone else appeased the judge. But I was still held to the law because I had to take the class to be right in the eyes of the law.
Many people see the Gospel this way. Jesus does his part and we must do ours. But we sing “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.” You see, Jesus also does our part, the part that makes us righteous in the eyes of the law. We are not just “not guilty” but righteous in Christ. Isaiah further says in verse 53:11, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Notice here that the righteous one makes believers to be accounted righteous as well as bear their iniquities. We call these two aspects of Jesus’ work the passive and active obedience of Christ. Passive means the part that was done to him, the suffering for our punishment. Active means the obedience in keeping the law that Christ transfers or accounts to us. We have his obedience. We do not have to take the defensive driving class or anything else to be righteous in God’s eyes.
Many have criticized this understanding of the gospel as justifying continuing sinning. First, Paul repeatedly says that this is a false conclusion from being accounted righteous. See for example Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Second, remember to be found “not guilty” someone must first let God find them guilty. Anyone who truly experiences this conviction of sin and guilt will forever have a different attitude towards continuing to sin. Last, Paul says we have died to sin when we are born again. Sin no longer rules us. Also, look back to 1:18 and what it means that our sins are like scarlet. This does not mean that red is just being contrasted to white. It means that we have blood on our hands from the guilt of our sins. The comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah means that no matter how deep and vile our sins are, God can make them white as snow.
Believers rejoice that that though we are “as vile as he” we “lose all our guilty stains,” in that “fountain filled with blood.” Also, if you have never been found guilty of sin by God, understand that he convicts you of guilt to find you “not guilty” and declare you righteous in Christ. Let him find you guilty, it is the best thing that will ever happen to you because then God will declare you not guilty and righteous in Jesus Christ.
Brad Swygard received his two best gifts while at WTSU, his salvation and his wife, Jeanette. They have been married 31 years and have three grown children, Sarah, Joel, and John. Brad has been in the gospel ministry for 27 years, most recently as Senior Pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Dewey, Oklahoma seventeen years. He graduated from WT in 1985. He received his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1990. He has started a window washing business in Amarillo while pursuing his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He has been a church planter and a school principal, as well as coaching a High school speech and debate team for sixteen years. Brad likes to spend time with his wife, ride trains, hunt, fish, and train his bird dogs.