In part one we looked at the practical implications of the gospel once its theological truths has taken root in our lives. I argued that Christianity has more to offer our country than a “spiritual” escape from earth’s realities. In fact it’s a different kind of spirituality all together. Continuing in Isaiah 6 – 10 we now look at the issue of sin which under girds all our human and systemic problems.
The Problem Of Sin In Me
Since the dawn of our democracy South Africa has labored to try and fix itself and to reconcile its people. Regrettably – apart from God. Where we have applied religion, we have certainly not done so with the view that universal sin is our greatest problem. This shows in our policy making and efforts to redress economic, racial and systemic problems.
Consequently, we have largely blamed an impersonal government, white racism, or certain corrupt individuals, but never truly ourselves, recognising that there is something intrinsically wrong with humanity itself. Confronted with the glorious Jesus, Isaiah realised that he is “a man of unclean lips” and he lives “among a people of unclean lips” (Is.6:5).
Being made aware of this, Isaiah had to deal with his own sin (cf. Is.6:5-7) and the sins of those who made “unjust and oppressive laws, depriving the poor of their rights and withholding justice from the oppressed” (Is.10:1-2). These were individuals in government, the private sector, religious institutions and society in general (Is.9:13-16).
Isaiah had a particular bone to pick with the church because it “mislead” the people by refusing to speak against injustices and for being complacent (Is.9:15-16). His aim was that through the preaching of the gospel, these groups would repent, return to God and reform their society (Is.10:20-21). Structurally, a visible sign of their repentance would have been to redress the sins of their past by making new laws reapplying God’s Law in serving the oppressed. And those who benefited from the old system would have been expected to materially and relationally come alongside those who suffered under that system. Much like what Zacchaeus did in Luke 19:1-10.
The Problem Of Sin In Us
But Isaiah didn’t only call the obvious perpetrators of violence to account. He spoke against the entire nation because God declared that “everyone is ungodly and wicked” (Is.9:17). Even the oppressed, “the fatherless and the widow”, who didn’t have the systemic or economic power to oppress others, were guilty because “every mouth speaks vileness” (Is.9:17). Their vile words, which were testimony of their evil hearts, rendered them guilty before God. Therefore, although the sins of certain individuals were the cause of their systemic problems as a result of the oppressive laws they made, sin in all of them, including the oppressed, was the cause of their entire nation’s brokenness.
Imagine if we applied Isaiah’s message in our South African context today. Would black people still have the ‘right’ to say, “I am the innocent oppressed”? Or post-apartheid whites who say, “But I am innocent. I never enslaved anyone or made oppressive laws”? The reality is that before God we are all sinners, “conceived in sin at birth” (Ps.51:5, Ps.58:3), and deserving of God’s righteous judgment. Isaiah calls it a “decree [of destruction by death] overflowing with [God’s] righteousness” which “the whole land” deserves (Is.10:23), which no human intervention can fix or overturn. For since we are conceived in sin, it’s in our nature to sin and the reason why we can’t stop corrupting ourselves, others and the world!
The only remedy for sin is the utter and complete removal of all sinners by death. Like Isaiah and his people who had to be sacrificed on the “altar” for their sins, so do all of us (Is.6:6-7, 11-13). But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus was sacrificed in our place instead. And through faith in His death, God’s just decree for our sins is overturned and satisfied. Much like Isaiah after his sin was taken away (Is.6:6-8), God reconciles us to Himself and gives us “the ministry of reconciliation” (2Cor.5:17-21). Having understood true justice, mercy, and reconciliation through Jesus, God empowers us to no longer live in sin, but for God instead (in thanksgiving of Jesus), as we proclaiming His justice and mercy to the world.
Beyond South Africa: A Better Hope
King Ahaz rejected God’s prophet and relied on Assyria to help stand against the threat of invasion. Maybe he thought God’s Word wasn’t practical enough to deal with life’s realities? In the end, his decision cost him his son whom he had to sacrifice to Assyria’s gods in an attempt to forge an alliance (2Kings16). Ahaz also later discovered that the alliance was a front because Assyria had its sights set on their wealth (Is.10:7-11). The king, as well as the people learned the hard way that God’s Word shouldn’t be trivialized. All because they didn’t believe that God’s Word “gives us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of God” (2Peter1:3).
Much like Ahaz, our very own government has a syncretistic approach to religion. Therefore, Christians don’t naively expect government to wholeheartedly adopt our approaches to solve our nation’s problems. Nor do we pin our hopes on reforming government to bring about the change we long for. In a country troubled by its past and divided by race and politics, the Christian’s hope is the gospel. Isaiah longed for a world free of systemic oppression, racial discrimination and strife (Is.9:1-5; 2:1-4). God gives us a taste of that world where Isaiah first met God in “the temple” (Is.6:1). Here God gave Isaiah a new and better vision for the present and the future.
For the present God gave him affirming comfort within the church among a community of believers (Is.8:1-3, 16-17) who have been transformed by the gospel, bear one another’s burdens, forgive past grievances as the Lord forgave them and love one another across racial and socio-economic lines (Col.3:10-15). And not only within the Christian community, but everywhere else, Christians are commanded to not discriminate on the bases of race or class, but to love all and treat everyone as God treated them. Ultimately, we long for the return our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. The only human King who can and will perfectly and eternally govern the world “with peace, justice and righteousness” (Is.9:6-7) and free the world and humanity of all sin, suffering and systemic oppression.