Have You Tasted?

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

(Psalm 34:8, ESV)

In reading through Isaiah chapters 43-44 this morning, I was struck by the fatherly tone of the Lord as he spoke to his people. There are words of comfort, words of encouragement, words of rebuke and correction, words of hope and words of instruction–all in the span of two chapters.

Pointing back to the centuries of his faithfulness to Israel, the Lord is lovingly calling his people back to himself. As I read these tender words, I was reminded of Psalm 34:8. Israel had tasted and seen that the Lord is good. In these two chapters, she was now being called upon by the Lord to live in a way that was consistent with her experience.

How was she to behave? Quickly I scratched out at least five ways the Lord was calling Israel to respond:

  • By not being fearful (43:1-2, 5).
    • Because of her disobedience, Israel had suffered greatly and Isaiah prophesied that Judah would be next. Severe starvation, exhile in a foreign land, the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would leave the people filled with fear and foreboding.
    • But notice the tenderness of the Lord’s loving words to his disobedient people: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1–2, ESV)
    • The Lord had not abandoned his people in their time of need. As a matter of fact, he was in control of everything. He had brought this trouble upon them in order to chasten them, because he loved them.
  • By being a witness to the nations (43:10, 12; 44:8).
    • The pagan nations around them could point to gods of wood and stone, but none could save. When Israel had replaced Yahweh with one of these gods, they suffered even more because they offended the Lord with their idolatry.
    • Because they had tasted and seen that the Lord is good, they were called upon to testify of the goodness of God before the world. He had saved them. Just as he claimed in v. 2, he had made them pass through the waters (Ex. 14), through the rivers (Josh 3), and would cause Daniel’s friends to pass through fire and not be burned (Dan. 3).
    • The pagan gods could not do any of this. The Lord called ISrael to produce any evidence of these idols foretelling accurately what would happen. They couldn’t do it. Which idol had brought victory in war? Which idol had provided for them in the wilderness? Which idol could compare to the Lord?
    • If ISrael would only stop and consider what they had tasted and seen, then they would not fail to be a witness to the faithfulness of the Lord.
  • By turning from sin and returning to worship (43:22-28)
    • If they had truly seen all that the Lord had done for them, then Israel was called to turn from their ongoing rebellion and return to worshipping the Lord exclusively as they should.
    • In favor of the gods of their neighbors, they had stopped calling out to Yahweh. They had become weary of worshipping the Lord (42:22). This attitude of the heart manifested itself in their worship.
    • Israel stopped bringing sacrifices, and offerings. Instead, they burdened the Lord with their sins.
    • If only they would remember that he is the God who can take their sin and blot it out. That he alone can bring total forgiveness. The false gods could not do this, and yet Israel had forsaken the One True God and turned to worthless pursuit of these empty idols.
  • By forsaking all idols (44:6-20).
    • If Israel had seen that the Lord was good in his gracious dealings with them in the past, would they also see how foolish idolatry was? How is it that the creation of human hands, so frail and weak, could somehow save the very men who had made it? They were blind to the obvious!
    • And as if that weren’t bad enough, the delusion had a devastating effect upon the nation. How could a stump of wood be expected to be a savior? Not only were these false idols lifeless, but they were also powerless to save and many had died under the deception that they could do anything for them.
    • And yet, here was their God pursuing them! He was calling his wayward people to turn from these false hopes and non-gods and to come back to him. “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.” (Isaiah 44:21, ESV)
  • By remembering the majesty of the Lord (44:21-28).
    • Finally, Israel would be able to testify to the goodness of God by remembering his majesty in his grace and willingness to forgive, in his creation of all things, in his fulfillment of prophecy which he declares through his servants, and through his building up and bringing low of Jerusalem and his people.
    • If Israel would remember, she would once again taste and see that the Lord is good–and majestic in his sovereignty.

As I thought about each of these, I considered how I too, have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Have I forgotten in times of fearful fretting? Have I forgotten in my failure to be a faithful witness? Have I been slow to turn from my sin because I have forgotten his lovingkindness and mercy? Has this made me slow and cold in worship? Have I continued to cling to my heart-idols because, like Israel, I have forgotten the sweetness of the Lord to me? Have I remembered that no matter where I am, no matter what my present circumstance, and no matter what this life has brought to me, the Lord in his perfect plan has decreed everything as it should be. He is majestic, and every hill and valley and curve in life is part of his plan.

Our Father in heaven loves us, even when we stray. He sent his Son to save us in the midst of our stubborn rebellion. We not very different from the people of Israel at times. The solution for them is the same as it is for us–turn to the Savior. He will never turn you away.

When the Struggles Run Deep

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

(Ephesians 5:3–8, ESV)

What happens when a sinner is redeemed? Do all of their sinful habits and lifestyles instantly disappear, with no trace or spot left? Yes and no. Before the holy eyes of God, our sins, every one of them, vanish beneath the blood of Christ. But for now, there remains in us an ongoing struggle that is a battle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Holy Spirit who now resides in us. At times, the battle cools and the temptation will lay dormant. At other times it will be sparked and set ablaze like a fire in a powder keg.

As Paul has laid out in Epehsians 4, we need to live or “walk” in a manner worthy of our calling, and this new lifestyle must be empowered by the Holy Spirit filled life (Eph 5:18). The new life in Christ is too often described as something it is not. The miraculous redemption we receive is described in terms that are over-realized; making young Christians think that their new life in Christ has given them complete mastery over their sin. But that sort of idea is dangerous for two reasons: It does not warn of the power of the flesh and the strength of temptation, especially in those areas of past habitual sin. The second reason this idea is dangerous is the fact that most new Christians are told very little about the need for dependence upon the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to defend against the overwhelming urges to give in to sin. The result is that they try to overcome their temptation with will power and fleshly means and end up failing.

In Ephesians 5, Paul deals with some pretty strong sins that were affecting some of the Christians at Ephesus: sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness (v. 3), filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking (v. 4). These sins, like all sin, have been conquered by the cross of Christ. Those who place their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation have been cleansed and set free from the filthiest of sins. We need to say that more. We need to let the man or woman who is mired in shame and guilt know that Christ can set them free and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. They don’t need to clean up themselves in order to come to Christ. As a matter of fact, they can’t. As the song says, “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

But we must also acknowledge that once a person has come to Christ and been washed clean, and they are justified with Christ, they are not incapable of the temptation to sin. If this were the case, then Paul’s words of warning would make no sense. Neither would all of the exhortations in the New Testament about fleeing from sin and temptation. And since we are to grow in holiness, and to learn to grow in dependence upon the power of the Spirit, and to wield the Sword of the Spirit, we need to also acknowledge that the young Christian is in need of discipleship, patience, and brotherly oversight. And this is especially true when the struggles run deep.

In our society today we have been hearing more and more about the “gay Christian.” In this passage, Paul is pretty clear–there is no such thing. But that doesn’t mean that we will not have new believers who will need us to walk with them as they battle sin and temptation. They will need much prayer, Bible instruction, love, friendships, and hospitality. So will the Christian struggling with other forms of sexual immorality, and adultery. So will those struggling with anger, gossip, ingratitude, coveting, bitterness, and shame. The list is never ending. We need one another. None of us has arrived, but we are all making our way.

We cannot accept that Christ saved us so we can remain in our sin, therefore we can continue to wallow in it. But neither can we say that Christ saves us and therefore, temptation is stricken from our hearts so that we no longer struggle with it anymore. If that were true, we wouldn’t need the Church, we wouldn’t need each other. And we wouldn’t need Christ or the Spirit of God. May the Lord help us to reach out to those who are struggling. And may we be prepared to go with them for the long haul, knowing that this is how Christ uses the Church, the Spirit and the Word to bring about our sanctification.

The Challenge of Speaking Truth to Power

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

(Galatians 2:11–14, ESV)
Hugh Latimer preaching to King Henry VI

Walking faithfully in the Christian life is filled with challenges and plenty of opportunities to grow and mature. Of course, maturity includes learning from our mistakes as well as our successes. 

The Apostle Peter had made his share of mistakes during his time with the Lord Jesus. Even in his older years, having matured spiritually and having seen many victories, he was still prone to wander at times, as Galatians 2 tells us. We all can learn from Peter’s mistakes and see the need for humility in our own lives.

Likewise as Paul in Galatians 2 encountered, there are times when we must deal with those who are in sin and error. We may be the more mature (at least in this area) or the one who was not deceived by this particular error and weren’t caught up in the false teaching. It can be an intimidating thing to confront someone about their faults and sins, especially when they are influential or in a position of authority. We can sometimes imagine the outcome of our confrontation—maybe a backlash of anger, or a shouting match, or a challenge to our questioning their maturity or faithfulness to the Lord and Scriptures. Maybe we imagine a broken relationship and friendship, or the family leaving our church, or turning others against us. Compound this with other past experiences when some of these things did happen, and it makes it especially hard to do the right thing. It often seems easier to just let it pass without a comment. I have had this temptation happen many times myself.

There are some things that we should allow to pass. Love does covers a multitude of sins (1Pet 4:8). But there are also many things that we cannot allow to pass by without speaking up. As Paul demonstrated in his letter to the churches of Galatia, we cannot remain silent about any deviation from the core doctrine of justification by faith alone. So, while we recognize the need for humility and grace, we also must confess the need for courage to confront and speak boldly for the sake of the truth.

The dangers are two-fold: in the name of faithfulness, be angry and caustic with no love for people while upholding truth, or allow the desire to be liked by men and avoid confrontation to drive us to silence so that we can avoid conflict. Both are sin. May God help us all to grow in this area where we can speak body with love for the sake of Christ, knowing that we would desire that when someone senses error in our own understanding of doctrine, that we too would want to have them come to us in a similar Christ-like manner.