It is a frightening statement. It is possible to receive the grace of God in vain. The apostle Paul gave such a warning to the Corinthians: “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Corinthians 6:1 ESV) The image Paul uses is that of receiving this amazing gift of salvation from the Lord only to throw it away. This is exactly what the people of God, as the nation of Israel, did. God had chosen them and blessed them. Look at the description of God’s goodness and blessings to the people in Isaiah 5:1-7.
The Song of the Vineyard (5:1-7)
Isaiah sings a song concerning God and his vineyard. As we read this song you will notice how Israel is being described as the vineyard. It is a love song that God has for the vineyard. Listen to the loving actions of the Lord. The Lord cleared the stones, planted choice vines, and built a watchtower in its midst. Building a watchtower in the midst of the vineyard depicts permanent residence. God was living among his people. He also cut out a wine vat in the vineyard, suggesting a permanent storage place as God expected abundant fruit from his vineyard. So the Lord looked for his vineyard, with which he had made every provision and given every opportunity, to yield grapes. But it yielded wild grapes instead. It yielded sour, worthless grapes. All of God’s work and loving actions for the vineyard has not produced good fruit, but sour, stinking fruit.
So now God asks the question: what more could he do for his vineyard? What more can I do that I have not already done to ensure that fruit would come from this vineyard? There was no reason for this vineyard to yield worthless grapes. What can be done for the people of God when a total work of grace has been lavished on them and yet they remain as if grace never touched them? To illustrate this another way: what would you do if you plant a fruit tree or plant and it did not bear the fruit you were looking for it to bear? No matter how much work you put into that plant or tree, no matter how much fertilizer you put on it, no matter how much you cared for it, it simply would not produce good fruit. What you do? You would rip it out! God has done all he could for the vineyard. He is not responsible for the sour grapes that were produced. So what is God going to do?
Listen to what God says he would do in verses 5-6. He will tear the vineyard down. The abandonment of an unprofitable venture was to be expected. If the vineyard had born true fruit, no hand could have touched it. All the blessings, all the provisions, all the protection, and all the grace was going to be removed. The only thing worth doing to the vineyard is ripping it out and demolishing it. Notice how verse 7 gives the explanation of this song. The vineyard is the house of Israel and the people of Judah were the Lord’s pleasant planting. The Lord looked for justice and found bloodshed. He looked for righteousness and found outcries of distress. So what were the people doing such that they had received the blessings and grace of God in vain?
Receiving Grace In Vain (5:8-30)
They do not regard the works of the Lord (5:12).
Verses 8-11 reveals a people who are consumed by worldliness. Their hearts do not regard the works and the ways of God. Instead, the people are consumed with adding fields and homes to their possessions. They are feasting and partying and do not pay attention to the ways of God. Verse 11 shows people are chasing after alcohol rather than pursuing the Lord. Their efforts to seek after the desires and pursuits of this world cause them to be blind to the work of God’s hands. This is a useful lesson to us. We are unable to see the hand of God working in our lives when our focus is on this life. The scriptures explicitly tell us to not be consumed with the affairs of this life, but to be consumed with the life we have in God.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” (Ephesians 5:18 ESV) We cannot be consumed with wine. We cannot be consumed with seeking wealth and possessions. We cannot become consumed by our work. We cannot be consumed by our pains and past. Life, with all of its challenges and difficulties, can cause us to miss seeing the mighty hand of God because our focus is diverted away from the Lord and from spiritual things. What we are doing is taking the grace of God and rather than focusing on God who gave us these blessings, we focus on the blessings and how they affect us.
They do not understand their sin or know God (5:13).
God is judging the people because they are darkened in their understanding. They lack a knowledge of the Lord and do not comprehend their sins. This is a teaching that cannot be emphasized enough: we must get to know God. How often God decries the situation of his people because they do not truly know him. They do not have a relationship with the Lord to know what God wants and know how to seek him.
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. (1 John 2:4–5 ESV) There is no other way to know God than to know what God has revealed about himself. This is what makes God’s laws so beautiful. Through God’s laws we know the mind, nature, and character of God. Take time every day to get to know God. Make it a priority every day to learn more about him so that the we will not have received the grace of God in vain.
Reject that there are consequences for sins (5:18-19).
Isaiah describes the people as dragging around the burdens of their sins. They have become slaves to their sins. We reject the grace of God when we continual drag these sins with us. It is amazing that people picture sin as “freeing” and “liberating.” How we need to see our sins as the Lord sees them: burdensome and enslaving. The writer of Hebrews called for us to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1). Notice the picture Isaiah describes. The longer we remain slaves to sin, the more the rebellion in our heart grows. The habit of sin is a very difficult habit to break. Habit turns into vice and vice into addition. Overcoming sinful behaviors only grows in difficulty and draws us further from the Lord the longer we remain practicing it. We are only making life harder on ourselves when we maintain a sinful life. We make it more difficult on our growth in holiness when we choose to weaken ourselves by staying away from Christian gatherings. We simply keep making decisions that are not beneficial for our spiritual health. Just as there are consequences for our physical health for the decisions we make, we must see the problems and difficulties we are causing for ourselves when we choose to have poor spiritual health. We reject the grace of God when we think that we can remain in sinful situations and activities and not have our hearts turned away from the Lord.
Moral perversion (5:20-21).
We throw away the grace of God when we choose to redefine God’s moral standards. Woe to those who declare evil acts to be good and good acts to be evil. Woe to those who substitute light for darkness and darkness for light. We see this problem running amuck in our world today. We are told it is good to live with your boyfriend/girlfriend when God says sexual relations before marriage is sin. Our world tells us that divorce is fine and that it is good for the children when God says that he hates divorce and anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery. We are told that marriage is an outdated, Puritan system rather than listen to God who says that he created marriage and that it is one man and one woman for life. We are told that homosexuality is acceptable when God condemns as unnatural and as sin. We are told it is good to assert yourself and think about your self first, when God has called us to put the interests of others ahead of ourselves. Verse 21 expresses the problem: we are wise in our own eyes. Rather than humbly submitting to God’s laws as being right and good for us, we think we need to update God’s laws to the 21st century, as if we are the ultimate arbiter and standard of morality. We have received the grace of God in vain if we take God’s grace and blessings and choose which laws we will keep and which we will discard.
Reject God’s laws and God’s words (5:24).
The most obvious way we throw the grace of God away is when we simply reject what God is telling us to do and telling us to be. This is what Israel had done. Though they were the people of God, they had turned their hearts away from his word. Verse 24 declares the problem. They have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. They did not want to receive his instructions. They did not want to listen. They would rather read other things and listen to other things than listen to the voice of the Lord. David described the law of the Lord as sweeter than honey. Jesus described his disciples as those who would hunger and thirst for his teachings and his ways. What are you listening to in your life to guide you? Who are you listening to? Are you listening to friends and family? Are listening to what people say about the scriptures or are you listening to the scriptures themselves?
Remaining In His Grace
The apostle Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 ESV) What an amazing grace to know what when we come to Jesus we are free from the condemnation of our sins. But the warning remains to not throw away that grace, that God’s grace will not be in vain for our lives. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3–4 ESV) We cannot now walk according to the sins of the flesh. We are to walk according to the fruit of the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5–8 ESV)
To set our minds back on the flesh is death to us. The condemnation returns and we are separated from the Lord yet again. In fact, he says that our minds are hostile to God and we are not pleasing to God when we return to the life of sin. Listen to the song of the vineyard. God has done everything he can for us so that we will bear fruit. God is looking for fruitful, godly lives in service and love to him. What else can do if we bear sour, worthless fruit than uproot our lives and judge our souls? What have we chosen to do with the outpouring of God’s grace?