“Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel! You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense. You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." (Isaiah 43:22-25, ESV)
The Lord wants to move his people forward, upward, onward. He has a plan for each one of you. Recently, I've seen this in a fresh way in my own life. The fruit of the Spirit is love -- and there are many outworkings of that love (Galatians 5:22). I believe the Spirit wants to produce heightened joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in me. And in you. He wants to move us forward, to take us further into the work and fruit of his Spirit.
On a recent Sunday at Calvary Monterey, I asked a friend of mine, Josh Blevins, to come and share the word with us. It was the first Sunday of 2019, the first teaching of the new year, and I had a sense he would bring a refreshing and robust word to the church. True to form, Josh kept his message centered upon Christ and a personal relationship with him. He taught from Isaiah 43 about the God who moves all things forward to his desired will and conclusion.
In the middle of his teaching, he came to Isaiah 43:22-25. As an aside, he asked the congregation to note the ways Israel went from the Spirit to the flesh in those few short verses. It is a passage which details how they devolved from walking in the Spirit to total carnality.
I thought it insightful and wanted to share those five downward steps with you. I've been thinking about each one of these steps in my own life, wanting to make sure I am on an upward trend. Since I had been thinking about moving more into the fruit of the Spirit, a warning on how to avoid the works of the flesh caught my attention. What follows are the points Josh drew out, along with some of my comments about them.
1. They Stopped Calling on God
God said, "You did not call upon me" (Isaiah 43:22). Jacob, Israel, had ceased crying out to the living God. Their relationship with him had dried out. Individuals, then the whole congregation, stopped praying, seeking, searching for him. What was once a rushing river turned into a dry stream, for their national praise of God had devolved into a shadow of its former passion.
The personal prayer and devotion to God of every believer is under attack. We are often discouraged from going to him. However, we must pray, seek him, and enjoy him. God has saved his people that his people might partake of him, but when we don't, when we stop calling on God, our souls dry out, and lifelessness ensues.
I have always sensed my personal walk with Christ is of utmost importance. The battle between my flesh and Spirit, the fight to press on, is often won or lost in those quiet times before God. I need his help -- daily -- but am often tempted to be slack in my time with him. Alas, I cannot afford to let down my guard. Too much is at stake, and I need him. Desperately, we must call on God.
2. They Felt God Was a Burden
God said, "You have been weary of me" (Isaiah 43:22). Israel had come to a place where they'd begun to think of God as a burden, a trial, a difficulty. No longer was he the delight of their lives. They ceased feeling blessed to be the apple of his eye (Deuteronomy 32:10). Instead, they felt God was a taskmaster, an onerous burden upon their lives. He, they had come to believe, was the ultimate kill-joy. He kept them from so many of the delights and passions they craved. To them, he was a burden, so they became weary of him.
The temptation to see God as a burden exists today, but Christ has not come to kill our joy but to make our joy full (John 15:11). As we abide in him, enjoying and connecting ourselves to him, joy and gladness flow. He is our ultimate satisfaction. But, again, believers are often tempted to think of God as a duty rather than a delight. Spiritual disciplines become drudgery. Generosity becomes a dread. We think of service to Christ as an inconvenience to our very modern lives. Instead of seeing him as the one to center our lives upon, he becomes something of an afterthought, but always lurking in the corner, asking for more of our lives.
God, however, is not wearisome. Understood correctly, he is the one who gives and brings us life. He is the lifter of our heads. He is the one who fought to bring us back to the glory we lost. He is making all things new. He is not a burden, but the lifter of it.
3. They Ceased Offering God Their Worship
God said, "You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices" (Isaiah 43:23). With their prayers in a state of decay and their view of God skewed, the people of Israel ceased to bring God their worship. The altar sat neglected, the priesthood twiddling their thumbs. No longer did they bring God all he deserved. God did not want any dead religiosity, so it is good that their outward disobedience followed their inner disobedience. Too many generations had rotely endured the sacrificial system when they had no heart or desire for God. This generation, however, followed through on their internal feelings, neglecting the house of God completely. Isaiah saw this, so did God, and he pointed it out.
Once our hearts drift from God, we cease walking through the little acts of devotion and obedience which used to categorize our lives. It is good for us to serve, attend, and give -- but we will often neglect these once our hearts are far from God. There is a danger of doing these outward elements even with a heart far from God, but once the outer elements stop it is good to ask why. For Isaiah's generation, it was because they had drifted from their love for God. Modern believers must be sure their outward obedience flows from a heart of devotion to God, but when those outward acts dry up we must wonder if it because our devotion to God has also dried up.
4. They Burdened God With Sins (24)
God said, "You have wearied me with your sins" (Isaiah 43:24). They had not only rejected the sacrificial system but had given themselves to immorality. In their newfound freedom, having cast off the God who made them a people in the first place, they entered into versions of sin previously thought unimaginable. They thought God wearisome, but imagine God's position -- he was the one who was wearied. Their sins -- the same old tired sins, over and over again sins -- had wearied him. They weren't running to him for new mercies, for forgiveness, for grace, but instead were running in their rebellion, feeling right for doing so. It was this persistence without repentance which wearied God.
Modern believers shift from Spirit to flesh when we run in persistent sin against the Lord. He is ready to forgive, and he amazes me when I think of his infinite supply of grace and mercy, but it is a shame when we do not turn to him for grace. We certainly need his love and kindness, so it is essential for us to, when we sin, for we surely do, cry out to him for his grace. We should repent of our sins and seek his aid.
5. They Were Unaware of Grace
God said, "I, I am he who blots out your transgressions" (Isaiah 43:25). God would release them from their sins. He would blot out transgressions. Eventually, forgiveness and newness were accomplished at the cross of Christ. He would replace us on the cross, he would drink in the divine wrath and judgment. He substituted himself for rebellious humanity. Israel, at that moment, did not see it. They did not know of God's radical and kind grace. They could not see how far his divine favor ran.
When modern believers live unaware of Christ's cross and the infinite supply of God's grace toward his people, they live as a mere shadow of what they could be in Christ. The grace of God shocks us into our true selves, the ones Christ had remade us to be. Paul, writing to Titus, said, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age...zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11–14 ESV).
It isn't that believers should be cautious about teaching about God's grace as if there is a danger that grace-teaching will lead to licentiousness. That is a danger, of course, Paul felt it (see Romans 6:1-4). But we must teach grace because it is true. And God's grace, setting us free, causes us to run in obedience and love and passion for God. An understanding of his radical, undeserved, overwhelming grace and love and mercy should lead a person to a life of devotion, sacrifice, and goodness, things missing from Israel in Isaiah's day.
I, for one, want more of the Spirit's operation in my everyday life. I do not mean more giftedness or supernatural events, though I love those versions of the moving of the Spirit. But what I'm referring to is the fruit of the Spirit -- “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...” (Galatians 5:22–23 ESV). I want to watch him bring forth the truest Nate Holdridge possible, the one remade in the image of Christ, from whom Christ shines forth. I need him so.