“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. . . . For they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 5:20-24).
The people who do the most damage to the kingdom of God aren’t sinners themselves. They’re the people who tell sinners that what they’re doing isn’t really sin. These people are particularly dangerous when they reside within the community of faith itself. On the pretense of being the most loving, they are, in actuality, the least loving. As they ridicule the idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” they wind up practicing the exact opposite: “love the sin, hate the sinner.” There is no one more unloving than those who encourage others—by word or by silence—to travel down the path of sin.
In Isaiah’s day, as in ours, that’s what was happening. In a weak-kneed bow to popular culture, some in the community of faith were calling “evil good and good evil.” In response, the young Isaiah—with royal blood flowing through his body—took on a new calling: prophet. He warned Israel’s self-appointed cultural leaders that their flippant attitude toward the Word of God would have dire consequences. In his lifetime Isaiah would witness the destruction and scattering of the 10 “lost tribes” of Israel, and the near-destruction of Jerusalem itself.
“But the dangers from without,” wrote Ellen White, “overwhelming though they seemed, were not so serious as the dangers from within. It was the perversity of his people that brought to the Lord’s servant the greatest perplexity and the deepest depression. By their apostasy and rebellion those who should have been standing as light bearers among the nations were inviting the judgments of God. . . . Iniquitous practices had become so prevalent among all classes that the few who remained true to God were often tempted to lose heart and to give way to discouragement and despair.”*
But then a shocking wake-up call: The prophet’s eyes are lifted from the depravity of the earth to the holiness of the Lord. “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
“At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“ ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty’ ” (Isa. 6:1-5).
When Isaiah was shown the holiness of God, he knew he was hopeless. But he was also shown something else: the grace of God.
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’ ” (verses 6, 7).
To partake of the grace of God, we must first understand the holiness of God.
If we’re struggling with sin, our worst possible enemies are those who call “evil good and good evil,” who encourage us to continue our lives of sin. (Trust me, if our sin was the type that hurt them in any way, they wouldn’t be quite so accepting.) Our best possible friends are those who call evil evil and good good—who invite us to receive the grace of God, and, as another young Prophet and King once said, to “leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
* Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), pp. 305, 306.