There is a beautiful passage in Isaiah 54:
Afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
Behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
And I will lay your foundations with sapphires.
Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies,
And your gates of crystal,
And your entire wall of precious stones.
All your sons will be taught by the Lord;
And the well-being of your sons will be great.
In righteousness you will be established;
You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear;
And from terror, for it will not come near you.
If anyone fiercely attacks you, it will not be from Me.
Whoever attacks you will fall because of you.
It is a wonderful thought that God can establish you in righteousness. What does that mean? When you believe in Jesus and do what God requires, you will become established in righteousness. Your righteousness prospers, both in the sense that you are constant and consistent in your righteousness and also in the sense that your righteousness profits you in the most general sense of that word, in spiritual, emotional and material ways. It is by no means a given that doing right will lead to blessing, but God’s mercy determines it to be so for those who trust in him. When you sin and turn aside, God disciplines you and you return. Your sin does not work out for you, but you are met with God’s rod. You seem to enjoy doing God’s will. Your “delight is in the Law of the Lord.” (Psalm 1:2)
He will be like a tree planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season,
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
However, if you can be established in righteousness, doesn’t that mean that you can be established in wickedness as well? Yes it does and the Bible elsewhere confirms this implication, through the idea of “divine hardening” or reprobation.
“He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they will not see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and be converted, and so I will not heal them.”
Calvinism teaches that reprobation is unconditional and that people become reprobate based on a mysterious decision of God before they were born that has nothing to do with what they do in life. However, a non-Calvinist ( like myself) believes that reprobation is conditional and that it is the result of repeatedly, in an unrepentant way, refusing to believe in the gospel of Jesus and to obey God. The Bible leads us to expect that God will at some point stop offering such people mercy and start strengthening them in their rebellion against him. Since they have so resolutely refused to obey him, God will no longer stand in their way. He won’t attempt to discipline them for their sins, because it doesn’t work. They don’t listen to God’s correction.
In vain I have struck your sons; They did not accept discipline.
When God disciplines you and you don’t listen, that’s when you truly start to enter a dangerous place. If you are unfaithful in times of happiness and suffering does not turn your eyes to heaven, how will you be saved? What must God do then to get your attention? He will not do anything, not anymore. He will stop impeding your descent into darkness. Rather, he will allow things to work out for you even in your unbelief and sin, at least for a while. Perhaps now when you sin, things seem to work out. When you scoff at the things of God, you feel powerful. When you’re a constant liar, your lies are not found out and they seem to “work”. They do what you plan for them to do. You “win” in your evil designs. You are good at it. You are skilled at doing evil. You praise and approve of others who do what you do. Since your sin and unbelief works out for you, you are reinforced in it and do it more and more and you do even worse evils. What’s more, you seem to enjoy it and you cannot even find sleep unless you do some evil thing (Proverbs 4:16). This also drives you to do it more and more. Perhaps this even carries on to the point where sin and evil are the only way of life you know. Any memory of instruction in integrity is faint, barely an echo from a place that feels terribly foreign. You don’t know how to do things differently anymore.
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, Or the leopard his spots? Then you as well can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
Enough time passes like this for you to scoff at the very idea of judgment. But there is One who sees you, and he is furious with you. The shadows of his hands are on you, and his anger is about to boil over, ready to cut you to pieces.
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
But God is merciful and patient. He honours their choice and gives them what happiness they can receive in their evil state and he sends his rain and blessing on them (Matthew 5:43-48). But things will not go on like that forever. Eventually, God will judge them, either here on earth or certainly hereafter in hell and their punishment will be very severe. Wickedness is a poor foundation, seemingly very powerful, it is ultimately very weak. Everybody has it in them to become like the reprobate. No one is exempt from it by some unconditional decree. So don’t let it be you. Decide to follow Jesus today and if you’ve been a Christian but unfaithful, recommit yourself now. You should never believe that you have strayed beyond mercy. If you feel convicted by God’s commands or fear his judgment, then that means you are not beyond saving. So never despair that God can forgive you, because the fact that there is some hope in you that he might, means that you are not yet hardened, but only if you listen. If you reject his voice now, there might not be another opportunity.