We all know how disheartening it is to do something in vain. The gardener is disappointed that her new flowers are destroyed by the thunderstorm. The workers are upset when mindless pedestrians trample the freshly poured concrete. We are even disappointed when we drive to work only to realize we have forgotten the key or card to gain access. But, perhaps there is no waste as great as the waste of a life, and that happens when we waste God’s grace that is given to us, totally undeserving of it.
A Dennis the Menace cartoon shows Dennis and his young friend Joey walking away from the next-door neighbors’ house. Both boys have their hands loaded with cookies. Joey asks, “I wonder what we did to deserve this?” Dennis responds, “Look, Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we’re nice, but because she’s nice.” That is precisely true of God’s grace, too. When it comes to grace, the scriptures teach that our reception is the key. How we respond to God is going to make all the difference in the world.
The prophet Isaiah contrasts God’s generous gifts with our disappointing lives. Instead of receiving the rewards of his carefully planted and cultivated vineyard, God finds sour grapes. Isaiah’s illustration shows us that God did everything necessary to produce beautiful grapes but only found bad fruit (Isaiah 5:1-30).
God knows us better than we know ourselves, and our excuses don’t hold water with him. The “if only” excuses, such as “If only I had more time” or “If only I had more money” are meaningless with God. “If only my circumstances were different.” Ultimately it is our way of blaming someone else for our mistakes and our refusal to acknowledge sin in our lives.[i]
Isaiah holds up six wild bunches of grapes with a warning to the Israelites, and each begins with a “Woe.” The first is a “Woe to the Greedy” (Isa 5:8-9). Their greed caused them to crave for more. Greed fuels unquenchable desire for more and more, whether it is for money, things or pornography. The best way to deal with greed is to surrender your will to God’s. In doing so one learns to be content with what he has.
The second bunch is a “Woe to the Addicted” (Isa 5:11-12). Alcohol has the power to take control of our minds and bodies and become our master. However, the prophet’s words are more far reaching than just alcohol; he is using alcohol as an illustration. In the way that wine inflames, he says my people are stirred, but it’s not for me they are stirred. They are passionate about their own pursuits of pleasure, but have no regard for me.
The third bunch is a “Woe to Those Who Carry Burdens of Sin” (Isa 5:18-19). We all get hurt, but we don’t all forgive, and when we don’t, our way is blurred. In fact, we lose our way. We carry with us resentment, bitterness and even hatred. We draw it along behind us from one year to the next. Nothing is as deceptive as sin. It makes us doubt God’s love and forgiveness for us.
The fourth bunch is a “Woe to Those Who Rationalize Sin” (Isa 5:20). This is what is happening everywhere today from Washington to our individual choices. We redefine and relabel sin so that it is no longer sin in our eyes. What God has commanded is no longer as important as it once was. The Supreme Court now makes decisions based on what the culture thinks.
The fifth bunch is a “Woe to Those Who Are Wise in Their Own Eyes” (Isa 5:21). In truth we think we know more than God. This is self-confidence to the point of rejecting God’s law and following our own false reasoning.
The sixth bunch is a “Woe to Those Who Have a Double Life” (Isa 5:22-23). God expects authenticity, and he has given us the means to stay relationally pure with him. When we don’t, we deceive ourselves because he knows our hearts.
God gives his grace to us so that we accept it and let it transform us. Isaiah says that God made us for his purposes. Isaiah says it this way: “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isa 43:7).
Life is really short, so much shorter than we can realize—here today and gone tomorrow. Those who live for themselves will die with regret, and those who live for God’s glory will find a satisfaction in life that is from God. Let God’s grace transform you. We were made to live for God’s Glory!