How Are We All Like Sheep That Have Gone Astray?

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In the Bible, we are often compared to sheep. For example, like these creatures, we need guidance and protection. Another attribute we share with sheep is that we easily go astray.

Such behavior is hazardous since the farther sheep stray, the more they become lost. As Charles Spurgeon explained in a sermon, “The sheep goes astray, it is said, all the more frequently when it is most dangerous for it to do so.”

All people are like those sheep because we turn away from God and follow our own sinful desires. The verse in Isaiah 53 reminds us of our sinfulness but does so in the context of the “Suffering Servant.”

In the passage, we see the horror of sin and the human tendency to rebel against the Lord. However, Jesus came to save us and invites everyone to become a member of His “flock” if only we will place our faith in His death and resurrection.

Following Our Own Way — The Reality of Sin

Isaiah 53:6 does not show us a flattering image of ourselves. As the first part of the verse says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” Because of our sinful nature, we do not want to submit to God and follow Him.

Instead, we actively rebel against Him (Colossians 1:21). From the first humans, Adam and Eve to those of us living now, we have all disobeyed the Lord and foolishly followed our own direction (Romans 3:23; 5:12).

Following our own way describes our sinfulness. Instead of seeking to do good and please the Lord, we seek to fulfill the desires of the sinful flesh (Ephesians 2:3).

Everyone has gone astray by following their sin nature, and none of us can truly say (apart from Christ) that we are innocent or free of guilt (Romans 3:10).

As Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12, emphasis added).

Therefore, the image of sheep running off and going astray gives us a convicting image of human sin. We are like sheep because we choose to wander further into our lost condition, often ignoring the danger that surrounds us.

Every human has inherited a sinful nature from Adam and Eve, but we also choose to sin against God by disobeying Him.

Because of our wrong behavior, the Bible tells us that we deserve death, punishment, and the wrath of God, which we heap upon ourselves by following our sinful desires (Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 1:18; 6:23).

We might think we are happy and safe like a wandering sheep, but Scripture opens our eyes to the reality of our dreadful and dangerous condition.

Biblical Context — The Suffering Servant

Isaiah includes the reality of Israel’s, and ultimately all of humankind’s, lost state in a chapter that details the work of “the Suffering Servant.”

The rest of the Bible shows us that this Suffering Servant is Jesus, the Messiah (1 Peter 2:24: Hebrews 2:17). Also, the description in Isaiah perfectly matches Jesus’ ministry and His sacrificial death.

Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:3; John 1:10-11; 3:19; 5:18). The greatest example of this is when He was on the cross, and they hurled insults at Him (Isaiah 53:3; Matthew 27:39-44; Mark 15:29-30).

Furthermore, He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy since when He was falsely accused and mocked at the trials, Jesus was silent “as a sheep before its shearers is silent” (Isaiah 53:7; Matthew 26:63; 27:12-14; Mark 14:61; 15:5; Luke 23:9).

Although all humans have gone astray like sheep, Jesus bore our sins in His body (Isaiah 53:4, 6). He was nailed to the cross and pierced for our transgressions to die in our place and give us salvation (Isaiah 53:5; Romans 4:25; Hebrews 9:28).

After His death, Jesus was placed in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, which fulfilled the prophecy of being buried in a tomb owned by the rich (Isaiah 53:9; John 19:38-42).

Furthermore, Isaiah said that the Suffering Servant would see the result of His suffering and take satisfaction in it, which implies Jesus’ resurrection (Isaiah 53:11). Some versions also use the phrase “he will see the light of life.”

In His death and resurrection, He brought salvation and justification (Isaiah 53:5, 10-11; Romans 10:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

As the end of the chapter explains, “he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

The passage in Isaiah 53 focuses on Jesus and what He does to redeem the “transgressors” who are like sheep who have gone astray.

Although we are His enemies and do not deserve mercy, Christ lovingly took our place (Romans 5:8). Thus, in Isaiah 53, we are presented with the reality of our sinfulness, but we also learn about the One who gave His life to save us.

Sin and the Need for a Savior

Considering the context, we cannot separate Isaiah 53:6 from the rest of the passage. Since the truth of our lost condition is framed within the sacrificial death of Jesus, we should recognize that this is significant.

God’s Word does not present us with the image of our lostness like stray sheep to keep us in guilt and hopelessness. Instead, the fact that we have all gone astray and followed our own way should show us that we need rescue.

Jesus provides us with rescue because He came to die for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). He made His purpose clear when He said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

While humans are lost in sin by following the desires of their sinful nature, Jesus promised that He came to find the lost sheep and bring them home (Luke 15:4-6).

We all can receive His gift of salvation, both Jew and Gentile, by placing our faith in His death and resurrection to save us from our sins (Romans 3:22).

When we place our faith in Christ, we become His precious flock. No longer are we the sheep who wander astray on a path that leads to death.

Instead, we listen to our Shepherd’s voice and follow His way instead of our own (John 10:27). Even if we do falter at times, nothing can separate us from our loving Shepherd or snatch us from His hands (John 10:28).

The question we must ask ourselves is how we will respond to the biblical truths of our sinful state and the good news of Jesus’ rescue. We might assume we are nice people, but even the “good” things we do are viewed as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

Like those self-willed sheep, we have all strayed further into sin. Thankfully, Jesus came to find us and save us. He suffered and died for our sins because He loves us. Although He is ready to take us in as beloved sheep, we must trust in Him to receive salvation (John 3:16-18).

Why Does This Matter?

Scripture tells us that we have all gone astray. By ignoring God and going our own way, we sin against Him. Such behavior will lead only to death and eternal punishment, which is what we all deserve for choosing to follow sin. However, the Lord did not want us to remain lost in our sinful state.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gave His life for us, the straying sheep (John 10:11). He suffered on the cross and paid for our sins so that we could receive forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. When we trust in Christ, we are no longer lost but are known and beloved “sheep” of the Shepherd.

For further reading:

What Does Jesus Mean ‘My Sheep Know My Voice’?

What Is the Significance of ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’?

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, ‘Feed My Sheep’?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Henry Crofts

Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening. 

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