Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)
Isaiah’s Plan For Personal Growth
The need for personal growth has been a constant for God’s people in all ages. Under the Law of Moses, the children of Israel needed to learn how to grow in the grace of the Lord as much as those under the covenant of Christ. Remarkably, the principles are the same. Isaiah, a prophet of God, lived in a time of great spiritual bankruptcy and moral degradation. This was especially acute considering the problem came from those who should know better. The Jews were the apple of God’s eye blessed with all the favors of the Lord Almighty to make them a great nation and a holy nation among all nations. However, they had turned their hearts to the idols of the land and filled their lives with the harlotry of wickedness. God sent many prophets like Isaiah to lead the people back and while some success was achieved, for the most part, the nation fell into spiritual darkness. The preachers of truth would need to give a stirring message to the people to bring them back to the Lord. Their task was not unlike the preaching of Noah in the most severe time of man or Jonah as he faced the city of Nineveh. Repentance was the watchword of the day demanding change in the hearts of men to seek the Lord and find His mercy and grace. As the son of Amoz began his work of prophecy among the people of Judah, the plan was simple, direct and necessary to return to the Lord.
There are six points to the plan for personal growth Isaiah sets forth. The people had defiled themselves with the sacrifices of idolatry and to begin renewal required a cleansing. Coming before the Lord demands purity of soul, heart, and mind. Isaiah’s admonition was not a physical cleaning but the spiritual bathing in the word of the Lord. Sin had polluted their souls and a moral cleansing was needed to worship God. All those who come before the Lord Almighty cannot present themselves before the holy character of the divine with polluted hearts and minds. Moral pollution will lead to the destruction of the soul and only through the healing of God’s love will forgiveness be granted. The first part of personal growth is taking a spiritual bath. Second, the need to remove the evil that has defiled the soul demands action. The Lord cannot abide in the presence of wickedness and sin will separate man from the grace of God if not removed. Often men confuse the love of God with His law thinking the love of God negates the requirements of the law. Isaiah did not suggest the people could continue in their idolatry and come before the Lord pure and holy. Sin defiles and unless it is removed it will hinder spiritual growth. Vital to understanding sin is the need to stop following the ways of evil and remove it far from the heart. Two things necessary to combat evil is to stop doing evil and put it away. In other words, stop doing what is wrong! Sin cannot be continued without consequence. The Lord demands that man cease to do evil. Whatever is bringing about sin must be put far away with no desire to engage in the rebellion against God. He will not tolerate sin.
Following the negatives of personal growth, Isaiah exhorts the people to follow the path of righteousness. The final three admonitions must replace the evil that has been removed. Fourth in the sequence of personal growth is to learn to do good. Removing the evil must be replaced with the positive of spiritual growth. God is good and those who desire to please Him must learn what His goodness is and how to live before Him in righteousness. Evil takes very little to learn but goodness requires diligence. Next comes the desire to seek the right things or to follow after justice according to the word of God. Rather than engaging in the works of evil where injustice is common, the heart of the child of God seeks the good of others and what is right in the sight of God. The final part of personal growth is relative to the relationship with others. One of the most important relationships that establish our kinship with the Father is the way we treat one another. Those who oppress their fellow man, abuse the fatherless and scold the widows are not fitting for the glory of God and His will. As a result of idolatry, the people of God oppressed the needy, the downtrodden and the afflicted. Society had become a place where the privileged engaged in denying the grace of God to others. The oppressor must be rebuked, the fatherless defended and widows cared for. Personal growth is highlighted when the individual shows love and concern for others.
There is a natural flow to the personal growth plan of Isaiah. He begins with the selfishly absorbed individual who is basking in the glory of his evil to the man of God who is concerned for others. Evil is about the self-worth of man’s lustful needs fulfilled in the carnality of his own desires. Righteousness is where man is void of self and his concerns are about others. There is a contrast between the world of the wicked and the world of the faithful. The evil destroys themselves and the faithful of the Lord help others. God is pleased with those who cease to do evil and plead for the widows. Follow the personal growth plan of Isaiah and you will find greater reward in this life and the one to come.