A Look at Isaiah 59 -- Does sin separate us from God?
Today we preach a gospel that says our sin separates us from God.... and that only those not in sin have a relationship or fellowship with God. We categorize believers as those not in sin and unbelievers as those still in sin. The problem with that is that there are plenty of believers who "sin" just like there are unbelievers who do not "sin" and live pretty moral, upright lives.
But Paul preached a Gospel that wasn't based on our actions but rather on the FINISHED work of Christ. He preached a Gospel that proclaimed that all mankind had been reconciled back to God regardless of their right or wrong actions.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (19) To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; ~ 2 Cor 5:18-19
We were reconciled back to God not because of anything we believed, or anything we did. But only because God desired us... desired to be reconciled to us. So He was in Christ on the Cross and reconciled ALL men back to Himself.
Reconciling according to Webster's Dictionary means to restore to friendship; to settle or resolve differences; It also means to change from an enemy to a friend; and to admit into a community;
2 Corinthians 5:19 also says He didn't impute their sins against them. Actually, it says trespasses. The word trespasses in the Greek is paraptóma and means a lapse or deviation from the truth, a slip-up, an error; wrongdoing that can be unconscious or unintentional. The root of the word is parapipto meaning to fall away after being close beside; it is to descend from a higher place to a lower place; to stop flying. He reconciled ALL men without considering their sins... those that slipped up, deviated from the truth, made an error because they fell from a higher place to a lower place in their understanding of who they were as Abba's sons.
Romans 5:10 says God did this reconciliation while we were enemies. An enemy is someone with a deep-seated hatred for another! Romans 5:8 says this is how God demonstrated His love for us, He did it while we were sinners. No repentance or confession required on our part..... it was totally His doing. It says this all happened while we were weak and ungodly (verse 6)... while we were sinners (verse 8).
HE reconciled us.... restored us back to friendship with Him, settled and resolved the differences we had with Him, changed us from an enemy to a friend and admitted us into His community of love. He did that while we (all mankind) had a deep-seated hatred for Him, while ALL mankind was powerless, ungodly, and sinners.
That verse in the Greek says "Moreover (on top of all that)... talking about verse 17, which we'll have to save for another post! Moreover, on top of all that (talking about our identity as the new creation) ALL are of God who reconciled us to Himself! It doesn't say "all things." It says ALL are of God! I love that. He reconciled ALL mankind to Himself on the Cross and that same mankind is His! They are the ALL that is of God. They belong to Him.... those we label as believers, unbelievers, sinners, non-sinners.... ALL are of God! That doesn't sound like separation to me!
And He did ALL of this on His own without requiring believing, faith, repentance, confession, a "sinner's prayer," etc. It was simply to demonstrate His love for us. His relentless, passionate, pursuing covenant love.... which is His chesed! In other words, to demonstrate His resolve to never let go of us, no matter how far we had gone. No matter how alienated we had become in our own minds toward Him (Colossians 1:21)!
So, if that's Truth... if that's the Gospel, where did we get the wrong idea of separation from God? The idea that God was too holy to have a relationship with us when we sin?
This concept of separation from God uses the verse Isaiah 59:2: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
This verse doesn’t say God has hidden His face from you and can’t hear you because of your sin. Even though for years that’s what I thought it said! I pictured God with His fingers in His ears and turning His head away from me..... because of sin. How sad! That must grieve God when we think about Him like that.
Let’s read it Isaiah 59:2 in context.....
Isaiah 59:1: Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
The word behold is not a word we use today so we tend to just read it and dismiss it. But the word behold is God waving a giant neon flag at us and saying, “Pay very close attention to what comes next, because it’s especially important!” What are we supposed to carefully give our attention to? What is so important that God does not want us to miss it? This beautiful description of God… His hand is not so short that it cannot save! And His ear is not so heavy (so burdened or dull) that it can’t hear! That's our Daddy!! Always reaching towards us... always listening to us!
BUT until we have paid attention to that and understand Abba through this light, we will continue to misunderstand verse 2!
Verse 2 says: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you so that he will not hear.”
Yes, sin caused a separation, a hiding of God's face, an inability to hear. But it wasn't on God's part... it was on man's. Sin consciousness causes men to see and hear God through a lens of condemnation and judgment. Remember in the garden that it wasn't God who was hiding from Adam. It was Adam hiding from God. In Genesis 3 Adam's trespass caused sin to enter the world, but God did not turn His face from Adam, nor was He unable or unwilling to hear Adam. In fact, He showed up ready to walk with him and talk with him just like always. He didn't hide His face and plug His ears because of sin…. He came into the garden looking for Adam, ready to spend time with him, loving on him, and having his daily conversation with him.
It was Adam who hid. God came looking for him. Genesis 3:8 says, "And they heard (shema) the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden." They hid from His face, from His presence. The word hid in Hebrew is chaba and means to withdraw; to conceal. Adam withdrew from God's face. Sin consciousness concealed God's face from Adam.
The word we translate obey is shema in Hebrew and means hearing with understanding, attention, and with a response. God didn't close His ears to Adam. Sin consciousness closed Adam's ears to God... he could no longer hear with understanding. His hearing became as Isaiah described it in verse 2, dull and heavy.... burdened by sin. Not God's!
God came looking for Adam. Asking "Adam where are you?" The English phrase where are you is in Hebrew ayeh. Some words are just do not translate well in English. When I used to read Adam, where are you in this verse, I would hear my dad calling out to me because of something I had done, "ROBIN ANN!! WHERE ARE YOU?" And so, I would read in those verses, anger, disapproval, and disappointment on God's part because Adam didn't obey! But that's not what ayeh means. In Hebrew, it is a mournful, sorrowful, lamenting word of grief. God is not yelling in the garden demanding for Adam to come out of his hiding and explain himself, or repent for what he's done. He is not angry over Adam's "sin." He is grief stricken that sin has caused His beloved son to be fearful. One rabbi describes it as: the cry of a lover who is separated from his beloved and this beloved is hiding from the Lover’s presence because of being in agony over having betrayed him.
This is not a picture of an angry God who is looking for Adam so that he can punish his "disobedience." This is not judgmental, condemning God who is hiding His face and closing His ears to His son. This first look at Abba's response to sin for us is a picture of a caring Father. One who is full of grief that His son is not where he should be.... in His presence, experiencing His love. He is so very sad, that His son who can no longer see and hear Him. Adam, because of his sin, can no longer see God accurately. Sin consciousness has hidden God’s face from him.
It is not God that is hiding from Adam because He's too holy to look on sin! Adam's sin has hidden from Adam who God is. Sin has hidden His true nature from him. And he now sees God through a warped identity, through the lens of sin, guilt, judgment, and condemnation. Instead of seeing God as a loving Father, he sees Him as judgmental and condemning.
And it's not God that refuses or can't hear but it's Adam that has a hearing problem. Oh, he still hears God, but not accurately and not by the Spirit. Now he hears Him through sin consciousness. Instead of hearing words of love and affirmation, he hears guilt and condemnation... he hears judgment. Adam became a man with an identity problem.... no longer seeing himself as a son made in Abba's image and likeness. No longer seeing himself as loved and accepted. But instead, seeing himself separated from God because of sin. Isn't it funny that God is the one who came into the garden asking Adam, "where are you" and yet man because of sin consciousness has been asking God "where are You" ever since?
Isaiah is not saying that God is separated from man… turning His face and plugging His ears because He is too holy to look at a sinful man. He is saying that God is displeased with the whole situation that sin has caused. And what does Isaiah tell us that God does in response to man’s sin? He doesn’t reject or abandon us. He doesn't separate Himself from us! We must keep reading and not just stop at verse two and form a wrong opinion about God.
According to Isaiah, God springs into action. He initiates a saving act whereby he rolls up his sleeves and comes to us Himself through his Son. Through the beautiful incarnation of Jesus!!
And then he tells us that those who turn to God will find that He was ALREADY for them and toward them! In other words, our repentance does not cause God to come to us, but rather, God’s grace precedes and even generates our repentance. Isn’t that what Paul said in Romans 2:4? That it's God’s goodness (His covenant love for us - chesed!) causes men to repent, NOT men’s repentance causes God to be good! He's ALWAYS good... Good is just who He is.
This is how the New Covenant (announced in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and elsewhere) works. Grace to His children who in their sin (in their false distorted fallen sense of identity) can no longer see Him for who He is or hear Him.... thinking He has hidden His face and closed His ears to them!