“You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness, who remembers You in Your ways. You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved. But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us way.” Isaiah 64:5–6

There are many lost souls who claim they have lived a good life. They are, most often, religious people who are serious about their beliefs. They have given thought to their actions and measure each choice by certain moral convictions. They are often scrupulous about observing “The Golden Rule.” They are good neighbors and coworkers. They have done many laudable works and given much to charity. They enjoy the accolades of others. They have kept careful mental notes of their good deeds proving they really are a “good person.”

Though they are indispensable to a world that desperately needs goodness, they are willingly self-deceived when it comes to how God truly sees and weighs their “do-good” report card. Because they rely heavily on being “head-and-shoulders” above the common crowd of mankind, they are guilty of playing the comparison game among amateurs.

Salvation is not some sort of a contest of who is wealthiest. Nor is salvation a merit-based scholarship awarded to the most deserving. It is not a personal struggle to distinguish oneself from the pack. There is no such thing as a level playing field in life any more than there is a spiritual equivalent to a “silver-spoon” when it comes to the probability of regeneration. Contrary to most arguments of who is and who is not likely to be saved, each soul saved by God’s grace is a stand-alone event, freely gifted by a sovereign Savior. God, in His mercy and grace, reaches down and invades every soul that is brought to Himself through saving faith. God is not a respecter of persons (Romans 2:11f).

The ancient nation of Israel is a testament to the fact that good works avail nothing without God implanting a regenerated heart first (Ezekial 36:26f; Jeremiah 31:33). This is the same idea of which our Lord spoke when He challenged Nicodemus that he must be born again (John 3:3).

In closing his book, Isaiah addressed himself to the despairing remnant of Jews who, because of sin, had been under the judgment of God. They were now repentant and in need of relinquishing their personal goodness and being drawn to Jehovah in faithful submission to Him.

Isaiah’s words in the first few verses of chapter 64 are a prayer to God begging for demonstration of His powerful intervention in the affairs of His people. His words are reminiscent of the great miracles of God as He formed the Israelites into a nation. The shaking of the mountains, the fire, and the notoriety among the sister nations of the earth that there is a living God of Israel take center stage in Isaiah’s thoughts. By verses 4 and 5 he arrives at his point, that there is no other God but God, and He is the only One who has His hand on the world. Therefore, it is incumbent upon His people to remember the personal connection God has established with His people and yield to Him in faithful obedience. Israel had disobeyed and their feeble efforts at self-righteousness only alienated them further from the God of grace. No amount of self-effort could dissuade God’s vengeance for their disobedience, repay their sinful debt, or assuage God’s wrath at their unrighteousness. Isaiah concludes verse 5 with these words, “You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved.”

There is no avoiding the fact that God is holy. It is His holiness that is offended by the sin of every man. His holiness cannot be ameliorated by any human effort, even if a man were capable of fully feeling how offensive to God his sin really is. To make Isaiah’s words personal you need to put his words into the first person—God is angry at sin, He is angry at my sin, I continue in my sinful ways, and therefore I need to be saved!

Isaiah utilizes verses 6 and 7 to explain the reasons for your inability to absolve yourself of your sin penalty, “We are all like an unclean thing.” Isaiah is poignantly showing that we are through and through contaminated with sin and are loathsome before our holy God. Our self-effort at being a “do-gooder” in righteousness is as repulsive as a scrap of rag used to cover leprous sores. Our vitality and stamina at every redemptive effort fades with the seasons and shrivels like a leaf. Our iniquitous thoughts and deeds, with the force of a hurricane, drive us away from God and to destruction.

Not only are your flailing attempts at “goodness” overwhelmed by your sin, but your heart betrays you. It is dead and cold to spiritual things. Verse 7 tells you that you are incapable of calling out to God or bestirring yourself to take hold of God. Your sin has caused a great gulf to expand between yourself and your God and you are consumed in your sins.

Isaiah uses the rest of the chapter to model submission under the hand of God. It is this submission of waiting upon God in faith for His salvation and His sufficiency which solves the dilemma of your sinful inadequacy (Isaiah 61:10, Romans 6:23). Trust and obey.