"If only..." famous words of regret

“If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” -Isaiah 48:18

The context of this passage comes when God is speaking to Israel about their continual disobedience to God and the reasons for their current state of suffering for their sins. Chapter 48 concludes with the promise of restoration and redemption for Israel, not by Israel’s own doing, but by God’s grace and mercy.

These words of God have implications both for life on earth as well as life eternal in heaven.
There will be plenty of instances in our lives where we will say, “If only…” and we can only hope and pray that God will use those moments to teach us about the importance of continually seeking to live obedient lives to the God that saved us from our sins and the punishment of them.

We can complete the “If only…” statement in so many ways:
“If only…
… I had followed God’s plan for sex and marriage.”
… I had followed God’s commands for friendships.”
… I had taken God’s warnings seriously.”
… I had a better grasp of my anger issues.”
… I had taken care of my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
… I had been the kind of parent that God commands me to be in Scripture.”
… I had been more forgiving.”

It’s easy to dwell on the “if only…” statements and allow them to haunt us and continually leave us feeling condemned or doomed, but we must take to heart how Isaiah 48 ends; with redemption! However, it is important to recognize the next statement of the verse, “your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness as the waves of the sea.”

Rivers in the Old Testament are often used as a metaphor for their steady and constant nature. To have “peace like a river” is likely meant to cause the reader/hearer to imagine the quietness of a steady flowing river, that is free from obstructions and rapids. To have “righteousness like the waves of the sea” is likely to bring to mind the overflowing abundance of the ocean waves (being from California, the ocean waves is one of the things I miss the most!) God promises to fill those with His righteousness who hunger and thirst for it. Jesus said, “I come so that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

When look back on our “if only…” moments in life, we can often easily see how if only we had remained obedient to God’s instructions, it would have resulted in peace, not discord. Even though we are saved from the punishment of our sins through Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, we cannot deny that we still suffer the consequences of our sins, in one way or another, here on earth. When we fall into sin, we are sure to rob ourselves of the peace of God that He promises to those who obey Him. We are left to suffer through and learn from the consequences of those actions, and it should humble us to the point to where we run back into obedience to God.

We also rob ourselves of the righteousness of God when we sin against Him. As Christians, we are to live as Christ would live (hence, Christ-ians). God’s people are called to be holy as He is holy. In this sense, we are robbing ourselves of the righteousness of God in the sense that we are not properly representing His holy name when we sin against Him.

Fortunately, the good news about our "if only..." moments in life, is that there is always redemption for those who put their trust in Jesus. The redemption may not be evident as immediate as other moments, but it is a promise of God that He will cause all things to work for the good of those who love Him.

It should be evident that God offers us peace and His righteousness to us in this life on earth, but the bigger picture of it all should be our focus on the promise of redemption from all the ways we failed to pay attention to God’s commands. I might complete the “if only…” statement with, “If only…but God.”

If only we had kept God’s commands perfectly, but God knew that we would fail and He chose to save us from our sins. Do you see the beauty of Isaiah 48? God makes it clear to them all the reasons why they should mourn over their disobedience to Him, and as their hearts are changed to mourn for their sins, God responds to their humility by restoring and redeeming them back into His blessing.

As Christians, we have no fear of falling out of God’s eternal blessing, because Jesus’ death and resurrection was for sins for all time (Hebrews 10:12). God promises to cause us to be more and more obedient to Him until the day we die and go to Him. It is when we are with Him in heaven when we can say for eternity, “I have peace like a river and righteousness like the waves of the sea” and there will be no “If only…” statements anymore!

My encouragement to Christians is try ask themselves when they are faced with temptation, “will this be one of those ‘if only…’ moments?” God promises a way out of all temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13) if we rely upon Him to strengthen us.

My encouragement to everyone else (those who do not currently have the forgiveness of their sins through faith in Jesus), put your faith in Him today! For those who suffer God’s wrath for eternity in hell will not be crying out, “If only…!”, rather they will be weeping in their sorrows and gnashing their teeth in anger at the God who is punishing them. There is no repentance in hell, but only a further and eternal hardening of one’s heart against God. Put your trust in Jesus and follow Him before your “if only…” moments run out.

16 “For God so loved the world,[a] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:16-18

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