The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. In 2015, 633,842 American lives ended as a result of heart disease, almost a quarter of total deaths that year (1). Steven Houser, the president of the American Heart Association, believes “the future of cardiovascular research is to stop the disease before it starts” (2).
Perhaps this goal explains the increasingly common labeling of various foods as heart-healthy. Salmon, almonds, blueberries, dark chocolate—all of these are applauded as heart-healthy foods and are recommended to include in our diets.
As serious as these heart-health issues are in our society, you and I come into the world with a heart problem that can’t be prevented. Ever since the first human beings, Adam and Eve, sinned, we’ve all entered this world with hard hearts. Instead of loving God and loving our neighbors, we love ourselves most of all. Instead of worshiping God and honoring Him as Lord, we try to kick Him off the throne and take it for ourselves. And because of this heart problem, we come into this world as God’s enemies. It’s not His fault; we’re the ones who sin. And we make ourselves His enemies because of our sin. What does the condition of our hearts have to do with being difference makers? You see, before you and I can be difference makers, a difference must be made in us. We need our unhealthy hearts to be replaced with healthy hearts.
An Old Testament Answer (Isaiah 1:1 – 15)
The Old Testament Book of Isaiah was written between the years 740 and 700 BC. The book has one major theme: trust God. In the Old Testament, Isaiah was a difference maker in the highest degree.
Isaiah was writing to people with hard hearts. They had a heart problem. They trusted in anything and everything before they trusted in God. They trusted in their kings and their military. Then when that strategy failed, they tried to make alliances with other nations so that they could trust in those kings and armies. They trusted in their external religion to keep God off their backs. But meanwhile Isaiah was speaking to their hearts, trying to help them understand that their greatest need was to trust in God.
Isaiah painted a bleak picture of rebellion against God. Through Isaiah, God said His children had “rebelled against [Him]” (v. 2). He called them a “sinful nation” and a people “weighed down with iniquity” (v. 4). As a result, God had made their land “desolate” (v. 7). He rejected their offerings and hated their festivals (see vv. 11-14); He stopped listening to their prayers (see v. 15). The Bible tells us that before we can make a difference in the world, a difference has to be made in us. But how? What can be done? The words of Isaiah give a clear outline.
Stop Doing Evil (Isaiah 1:16 – 18)
First Isaiah told the Israelites to stop sinning. Stop doing evil. Coming through loud and clear, Isaiah! Verse 16 says, “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil.” When it comes down to it, sin is always the problem. And God is serious about sin. Why? Because He’s holy.
To be holy means to be distinct and set apart. There’s no one like God. He’s completely, uniquely holy, and all of His characteristics flow from His perfect holiness. In God’s total otherness and His complete purity and perfection, He exercises all of His other characteristics. God is concerned about human sin because it’s an affront to His holiness. Choosing evil is rejecting God, and rejecting God is never good for us. However, God doesn’t just ask us to stop doing something bad. He always points us toward something better. All of God’s commands are meant to lead us to life.
Start Doing Good (Isaiah 1:17)
In verse 17 Isaiah told the Israelites not only to stop doing evil but also to start doing good. When we hear the command to do good, we immediately think, I’ve got to go to church more. I’ve got to work really hard to be religious. I’ve got to make sacrifices for God so that I can please Him and get Him off my back. But the Lord knew that response was coming.
We pursue religious activity because it seems easy and achievable. Isaiah’s point was that God isn’t interested in our attempts to earn His favor. They can never be enough. We don’t worship to get God off our backs; we worship because we love God. If we really love God, our devotion to Him will be evident in the way we love our neighbors.
Rest in the Finished Work of Christ (Isaiah 1:18)
Seven hundred years before Jesus walked on earth, God promised His people that He would remove their sins from them, and they would become pure. How does this happen? Only by an exchange. Jesus came to trade places with us. He came and lived the life we failed to live and died the death we deserved to die so that we could be cleansed of our sin and enter a right relationship with God.
We can’t stop doing evil and start doing good on our own. First our heart problem has to be fixed. Once that happens, God also enables us to do good. When God gives us new hearts, he gives us new affections. On the cross Jesus took on Himself the punishment for our sin, and He gave us His righteousness so that we’re no longer enemies of God but sons and daughters of God. This is the difference God has to make in us before we can be difference makers in the world.
Make a difference today by admitting you need a Savior.
This content is excerpted from Pastor Gregg Matte’s Difference Makers Bible Study. Find out more about living a difference making life here.