Last December, my family and I went to the mountains. We had lived in a tropical climate all our lives, so it was the first time we could see snow in all its magnificence. As we contemplated the white mantle covering the fields, my husband quoted Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
After asking about the meaning of scarlet, our three-year-old daughter asked, “Is the color red bad?” She knows sins are things God dislikes, but this verse is not talking about colors. The prophet was describing the bright red dye obtained from the eggs of a small insect. Clothes would be double-dyed in this bright red so the color became fixed. Neither rain nor washing would remove it. Sin is like that. No human effort can take it away. It’s rooted in the heart.
Only God can cleanse a heart from sin. And as we looked at the mountains, we admired the pure whiteness that scrubbing and bleaching a piece of cloth dyed in scarlet red can’t get. When we follow Peter’s advice, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19), God forgives us and gives us a new life. Only through Jesus’s sacrifice can we receive what no one else can give—a pure heart. What a wonderful gift!
In Japan, food products are immaculately prepared and packed. Not only must they taste good but they must look good too. Often I wonder if I am purchasing the food or the packaging! Because of the Japanese emphasis on good quality, products with slight defects are often discarded. However, in recent years, wakeari products have gained popularity. Wakeari means “there is a reason” in Japanese. These products are not thrown away but are sold at a cheap price “for a reason”—for example a crack in a rice cracker.
My friend who lives in Japan tells me that wakeari is also a catchphrase for people who are obviously less than perfect.
Jesus loves all people—including the wakeari who society casts aside. When a woman who had lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at a Pharisee’s house, she went there and knelt behind Jesus at His feet, weeping (Luke 7:37-38). The Pharisee labeled her “a sinner” (v. 39); but Jesus accepted her. He spoke gently to her, assuring her that her sins were forgiven (v. 48).
Jesus loves imperfect, wakeari people—which includes you and me. And the greatest demonstration of His love for us is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As recipients of His love, may we be conduits of His love to the flawed people around us so they too may know that they can receive God’s love despite their perfections.
“You can’t see me!”
When small children play “hide and seek,” they sometimes believe they’re hiding just by covering their eyes. If they can’t see you, they assume you can’t see them.
Naïve as that may seem to adults, we sometimes do something similar with God. When we find ourselves desiring to do something we know is wrong, our tendency may be to “shut God out” as we willfully go our own way.
The prophet Ezekiel discovered this truth in the vision God gave him for his people, exiled in Babylon. The Lord told him, “Have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The LORD does not see us’” (Ezek. 8:12)
But God misses nothing, and Ezekiel’s vision was proof of it. Yet even though they had sinned, God offered His repentant people hope through a new promise: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (36:26).
For us, God met the brokenness and rebellion of sin with His tender mercy at the cross, paying the ultimate penalty for it. Through Jesus Christ, God not only offers us a new beginning, but He also works within us to change our hearts as we follow Him. How good is God! When we were lost and hiding in our sinfulness, God drew near through Jesus, who “came to seek and save” us (Luke 19:10; Rom. 5:8).
After centuries of war and destruction, the modern city of Jerusalem is literally built on its own rubble. During a family visit, we walked the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow), the route tradition says Jesus followed on His way to the cross. The day was hot, so we paused for a rest and descended to the cool basement of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. There I was intrigued by the sight of ancient pavement stones unearthed during recent construction—stones etched with games played by Roman soldiers during their idle moments.
Those particular stones, even though likely from a period later than Jesus, caused me to ponder my spiritual life at the time. Like a bored soldier passing time in idle moments, I had become complacent and uncaring toward God and others. I was deeply moved by remembering that near the place I was standing, the Lord was beaten, mocked, insulted, and abused as He took all of my failure and rebellion on Himself.
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
My encounter with the stones still speaks to me of Jesus’s loving grace that is greater than all my sin.
On the way to work, I listened to the song “Dear Younger Me,” which beautifully asks: If you could go back, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self? As I listened, I thought about the bits of wisdom and warning I might give my younger, less-wise self. At some point in our lives, most of us have thought about how we might do things differently—if only we could do it all over again.
But the song illustrates that even though our past may fill us with regrets, all our experiences have shaped who we are. We can’t go back or change the consequences of our sin. But praise God we don’t have to carry the heavy burdens and mistakes of the past around with us.
Why? Because of what Jesus has done. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”! (1 Peter 1:3).
If we turn to Him in faith and sorrow for our sins, He will forgive us. On that day we’re made brand new and begin the process of being spiritually transformed (1 Cor. 5:17) (is 2Cor). It doesn’t matter what we’ve done (or haven’t done), we are forgiven because of what He’s done. We can move forward, making the most of today and anticipating a future with Him. In Christ, we’re free!
After attacking my husband with hurtful words when a situation didn’t go my way, I snubbed the Holy Spirit’s authority as He reminded me of Bible verses that revealed my sinful attitudes. Was nursing my stubborn pride worth the collateral damage in my marriage or being disobedient to God? Absolutely not. But by the time I asked for forgiveness from the Lord and my spouse, I’d left a wake of wounds behind me−the result of ignoring wise counsel and living as if I didn’t have to answer to anyone but myself.
There was a time when the Israelites had a rebellious attitude. After the death of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land. Under his leadership, the Israelite’s served the Lord (Judg. 2:7). But after Joshua and the generation that outlived him died, the Israelites forgot God and what He’d done (v. 10). They rejected godly leadership and embraced sin (vv. 11–15).
Things improved when the Lord raised up judges (vv. 16–18), who served like kings. But when each judge died, the Israelites returned to defying God. Living as if they didn’t have anyone to answer to but themselves, they suffered devastating consequences (vv. 19–22). But that doesn’t have to be our reality. We can submit to the sovereign authority of the eternal Ruler we were made to follow−Jesus−because He is our living Judge and King of Kings.
Gazing out my open study window, I hear birds chirping and see and hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. Bales of hay dot my neighbor’s newly tilled field, and large, white cumulus clouds stand out in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.
I’m enjoying a little bit of paradise—except for the almost incessant noise of the traffic that runs past our property and the slight ache in my back. I use the word paradise lightly because though our world was once completely good, it no longer is. When humanity sinned, we were expelled from the garden of Eden and the ground was “cursed” (see Gen. 3). Since then the Earth and everything in it has been in “bondage to decay.” Suffering, disease, and our deaths are all a result of humankind’s fall into sin (Rom. 8:18-23).
Yet God is making everything new. One day His dwelling place will be among His people in a renewed and restored creation—“a new heaven and a new earth”—where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4). Until that day we can enjoy the bright splashes and sometimes wide expanses of breathtaking beauty we see around us in this world, which is just a small foretaste of the “paradise” that will be.
As a young girl, I invited a friend to browse with me through a gift shop near my home. She shocked me, though, by shoving a handful of colorful crayon-shaped barrettes into my pocket and yanking me out the door of the shop without paying for them. Guilt gnawed at me for a week before I approached my mom—my confession pouring out as quickly as my tears.
Grieved over my bad choice of not resisting my friend, I returned the stolen items, apologized, and vowed never to steal again. The owner told me never to come back. But because my mom forgave me and assured me that I had done my best to make things right, I slept peacefully that night.
King David also rested in forgiveness through confession (Ps. 32:1–2). He had hidden his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11–12) until his “strength was sapped” (vv. 3–4). But once David refused to “cover up” his wrongs, the Lord erased his guilt (v. 5). God protected him “from trouble” and wrapped him in “songs of deliverance” (v. 7). He rejoiced because the “L
We can’t choose the consequences of our sins or control people’s responses when we confess and seek forgiveness. But the Lord can empower us to enjoy freedom from the bondage of sin and peace through confession, as He confirms that our guilt is gone−forever.
A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”
How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.