“Don’t come near me. I’m just a rotten filthy person!” Donna shouted out the words as she hurried down the street from our church. The person she didn’t want to get near to her was me, the local minister! Perhaps a little background might help! I had been taking a mid-week Women’s Bible Study for some of our parishioners. I was trying to show how great is the love and mercy of God that He can forgive our sins when we confess them to Him. He can cover them over so that He no longer looks upon them. As part of the study I asked the women to write down anything about their lives that caused them some concern. The idea was that we would then look at the promises of God regarding forgiveness and learn how all our sins are forgiven by Him when we confess them to Him and ask His forgiveness. Then we would tear up and dispose of the pieces of paper as a way of reminding ourselves that those sins were now gone. The women had begun to write.
Donna suddenly stood up and raced out of the church saying, “I’m just a rotten person. I’ve got to go!” Then followed the scene with Donna walking quickly down the street shouting out those words, “Don’t come near me. I’m just a rotten filthy person!” I had begun to follow her shouting, “Donna come back! Donna please come back!” But she kept on walking still repeating the words. I stopped following her.
Donna had been through a lot in life with alcohol and drug problems and a husband who had the same issues. But she had been attracted to our church by the wonderful young women in the group who had reached out to her. Fortunately we were able to minister to her a short time later. She came to understand what we had been trying to do in the Bible Study. She later received deep healing from the Lord in many areas of her life.
It taught me that some people live with terrible thoughts about themselves. For some it was the result of the things that they had done in life. For others, it was the things that others had said or done to them that made them think so badly of themselves. It was common in counselling to hear both men and women say things like, “I’m damaged goods!” Or like Donna, “I feel so filthy!” Or as one person put it, “I feel so stained! I’m sure that everyone who looks at me can see how dirty I am.”
How can one help such people? The words from Isaiah 1:18 have been used by God to bring deep healing to many people.
Forgiveness. Removing The Stain Of Sin. Isaiah 1:18
Isaiah 1:18 “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.
We see the significance of this verse in its context. God was addressing through Isaiah, the people and the rulers of Judah and Jerusalem. This was in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. He saw them as guilty of rebellion (1:2); as laden with iniquity (1:4); as dealing corruptly (1:4) and offering unacceptable sacrifices (1:11). He warned them, Isaiah 1:15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
He offered them grace and forgiveness if they would turn back to Him from their uncleanness and learn to act justly. Isaiah 1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
In verse 18 God invited them to have a discussion with Him. It was not to come up with some sort of compromise. Rather He meant that if they talked with Him they would come to know that He was right and they were wrong in their attitude to their sin. Their sins stood out in His sight like scarlet or crimson stains or like bloodied hands. But there was a promise as well in His invitation to them. If they turned from their sin and came back to Him, He would remove those stains. He would see them as having the whiteness of snow or wool and no longer carrying any stain.
This verse has meant a great deal to those who felt they were dirty, soiled or unclean because of many experiences in their lives. They felt that nothing could remove the stain. Some were sure that as people looked at them they saw the stain. What a blessing for such people to come to understand that as they confess their sins to God and seek His forgiveness, He not only forgives them but He sees them as clean, white and no longer stained. (We will see more of this when we examine forgiveness in the New Testament).
The verse has helped many victims of child abuse. They felt “dirty” throughout their lives. Those who abused them told them they were “dirty” and deserved what happened to them. It was a lie of course. But it is a tactic that perpetrators often use. They try to make the victim feel guilty so that they don’t report the abuse. They try to get the victim to believe that their “filth” brought the abuse upon themselves. The victims are disinclined to report the abuse because they believe that those who would listen to them would not believe them, or they would see the “filth” in them.
We will see in future articles that many people carry a lot of false guilt. They blame themselves for what happened to them. They think, “It must have been my fault that that person did those things to me.” What a joy it is to such people to discover that every perpetrator is guilty before God of giving unwanted attention or abuse to those who did not seek it. To discover they were “Not guilty” of the evil others imposed on them. To discover that the stain in their lives can be removed. To discover that they can be free for the first time in their adult lives to live with a clean conscience before God and other people. Some of them have discovered that it is possible to recognise the evil of the perpetrator and to forgive that person, experiencing even greater freedom as a result. They forgave the perpetrator in most cases before God or sometimes in the presence of a friend they trusted. They did not have to tell the perpetrator that they had forgiven him or her to feel free. [Contacting former perpetrators may be an unwise thing to do if the perpetrators have not changed.]
What a great privilege it is to minister to such people and to see them become free. But what a mixture of joy and sadness to see this release coming in the lives of folk in the latter part of their lives. How sad for people to get into their seventies and eighties before becoming free. But how wonderful it is that they did find that freedom in their lifetime and enjoyed it.
William Cowper, a famous English poet, was very conscious of his sin. He felt contaminated by it. However there came a time when he understood what Jesus had accomplished on the cross for him as a sinner. He expressed the freedom and the sense of cleansing that came into his life in the words of this hymn in 1779,
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Cowper felt clean at last. Donna eventually came to feel clean when she heard the gospel message of the Christ the sinless One who died for sinners, and received Him as Saviour. So too can you and I as we receive the forgiveness God offers us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
How gracious is our God to say to people today who will receive His Son, Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow
SOME QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION. [Added October 2017}
1] Do you think there are many people in our world today who feel unclean? What sort of people might these be and what do you think made them feel unclean?
2] Can you identify with those people who feel they have been “stained” in life? If so, what do you think led you to feeling that way and how did you learn to overcome it?
3] What do you think is the connection between these words from Isaiah 1:18 and the declaration of St John in 1 John 1:6 “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin?”
4] In the past in many Christian congregations people would ask newcomers such questions as “Have you been washed in the blood of the lamb?” What do you think the term means and how would you answer such a question today?
5] How does this passage from Isaiah 1:18 help us to understand what St John also wrote about cleansing, in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Jim Holbeck. Blog No.17. Posted on Sunday 13th March 2011. [Revised Thursday 12th October 2017]