“But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense. Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities. I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isaiah 43:22-25).
Do we deserve forgiveness? What can we do to earn God’s forgiveness? Our text reveals the fact that mankind has fallen short of what God expects, or in the words of the apostle Paul, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We can do nothing to deserve or earn God’s forgiveness; therefore it must be a gift of His grace.
The God who forgives
Israel had been abundantly blessed by God, but they refused to honour or thank Him for the wonderful things He had given them. Their disobedience and ingratitude is seen in the series of “nots” in the text, but their spiritual decline began when they stopped praying, then obedience became wearisome, and sin quickly took control of their lives. They were committing the sin of hypocrisy, for as they went through the motions of religious observance, they were rejecting God in their hearts. “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Instead of worshipping God, they were wearing Him with their sin. They were rejecting the sacrificial system that God had instituted, which symbolically transferred Israel’s sins to an innocent animal. By doing this they were rejecting God’s protective care and deciding their own means of salvation.
Surely Israel deserved the wrath of God, yet even now He promises that He will forgive them, not for any goodness evident in them, but for His own sake. Here we see a display of the Lord’s grace and mercy. Out of love for His people He declares that forgiveness is freely available. God’s grace, that undeserved, unmerited favour, reveals His love on a level difficult for the human mind to fully comprehend. “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).
The God who saves
Salvation is the invention of God, for it never did or could have originated with man. He designed it to reveal that He is the glorious, loving, and all-powerful God. Notice that the Lord describes Himself as “I, even I, am He”, which is remarkably similar to “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). In both instances the words are found in the context of deliverance from bondage. Only the Almighty God has the power to forgive and to save. “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2:7) … “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
God does not have to forgive or save anyone, otherwise it is a reward rather than a gift. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore God would remain just if He let us die in our sin and spend eternity in Hell. Yet, while we were drowning in wickedness, He reached out to save us. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The doctrine of a God who forgives and saves is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions on earth. All other religions try to placate their deity with some kind of work, be it either good or violent. Once the work has been performed they think that they deserve that god’s favour. For the Christian it is all by faith. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26).
The God who forgets
God promises to completely forget our sins. This promise finds its fulfilment in Christ alone when He died on the cross. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2:13-14) … “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19) … “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “We have no reason to expect pardon, except we seek it by faith in Christ; and that is always attended by true repentance, and followed by newness of life, by hatred of sin, and love to God” (Matthew Henry).
The devil tells us that we do not deserve God’s love, mercy and grace, and he is right. He says this to keep us away from the source of salvation. The Holy Spirit on the other hand tells us the same thing, but points us to Christ. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). We need to accept God’s provision of forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. If we reject God’s means of salvation, then we have no choice but to adopt a system that will lead us to damnation. It is far better to receive the gift of forgiveness and salvation from God. “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee” (Isaiah 44:22).