Isaiah 6 – God’s Holiness and Man’s Sinfulness
Isaiah 6:1-7 – God’s Holiness and Man’s Sinfulness
Intro: I was assigned with the topic of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. The second part is easy to understand. But the first part is not. I picked Isaiah 6 to share about this topic, but as I began preparing I found that I just kept staring at my computer. I didn’t know what to write. I didn’t know how to start. How can a sinful man like me hope to talk about God’s holiness? How can I possibly describe the infinite Creator? One aspect of God’s character described in theology is His transcendence.
His transcendence means that He is wholly unlike us, wholly independent of the material universe. In many ways, He is unknown and unknowable. Any attempts to describe Him will come up woefully short. All we can do is to is to scratch the surface. If God is like the vast ocean, then today perhaps we can dip our finger in and raise it up and know just a little bit more about one aspect of His nature.
Romans 11:33-36 – “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him is the glory forever!”
I. God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:1-4)
Isaiah was privileged with a glimpse into God’s throne room.
God is transcendent. By our own efforts, He is unknowable. But in theology, there is another term for God, and that is that He is immanent. And that means that God, whom we couldn’t know by ourselves, chose to reveal Himself to us. He shows us as much as our little brains can grasp about who He is.
And that is what we see in this passage. God opened up the veil of heaven for a moment and allowed Isaiah (and through Isaiah, us) get a glimpse of His very throne room. What Isaiah sees there is both awesome and terrifying.
God is on the throne – Yahweh is on His throne up there. Sometimes down here it is easy to forget this. He is sovereign. He is in control. And He has a plan for you. And what is His throne like? It says it is high and lifted up. God’s throne in heaven is above everything else, a physical reminder of His place as divine ruler over everything in the universe.
The Seraphs are worshiping God –
This is the only place in the Bible that the seraphim are mentioned. These are a special order of angel. They have six wings and are pictured flyihng in God’s throne room. Their wings are covering their face and feet. It may be they are covering their face because God’s glory is too intense for them to look at and their feet as act of respect much like God told Moses to take off his sandals on the holy ground.
Their primary duty appears to be worshiping God, calling attention to His holiness and majesty. We see they also are involved as agents of purification, taking the burning coal to Isaiah and announcing his forgiveness.
The Seraphim are amazing beings, reminding us of God’s awesome creative power and the diversity of His creation.
God’s Holiness is the focus – Above all, this glimpse into heaven shows us God’s holiness. In heaven we see the angels are saying, “holy, holy, holy.” They are not saying, “love, love, love.” They are not saying, “mercy, mercy, mercy.” God is these. But there is something significant in the fact that the focus in heaven is on God’s holiness.
God’s character qualities are equal in importance. They cannot be ranked or prioritized one above the other. He is infinite and His attributes are absolute perfection.
However, as people we are finite and imperfect. So our understanding of God comes in steps. So we must understand certain qualities of God before we can fully grasp others. And for us, the starting point for understanding God is His holiness. Other aspects of God’s character will not make sense unless we see that He is completely different from us, without even a hint of sin or corruption. And that is what “holiness” means. Holiness means to be set apart. God is set apart from us.
Isaiah 59:2 – But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.
Applying this for example to Christ’s death on the cross, we cannot understand why He had to die or why sin has to be punished unless we first realize that God is holy. His holiness means He can’t just ignore our sin. It has to be completely dealt with.
What does it mean that God is holy?
A. He cannot sin – Numbers 23:19 – God is not a man, that He should lie.
It is technically incorrect to say God can do everything. God cannot sin. His motives are pure. His actions are right. His plans are perfect.
Since God cannot sin, we can trust Him completely.
B. He hates sin – Proverbs 8:13 – The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
God does not tolerate sin. He hates it in every form. He hates laziness. He hates greed. He hates adultery. He hates gossip. He hates lust. The list goes on and on.
Knowing His hatred of sin, makes His grace and love toward us even more amazing. He could instantly judge each sinner, but instead He shows us patience and gives opportunities for repentance.
Application: Do you hate sin like God does? The answer of course is, “no.” We do not. We are far too tolerant of sin, especially the sin in our own lives. There are some sins that we enjoy. There are other sins that have become habits. About some sins we say, “that is just who I am.”
Peter said “be holy as He is holy.” Hate sin like He does. This is easier said than done. How do we do this? Firstly, we need to have the right standards. We need to spend more time looking at God and His character than the world. When we compare ourselves to the sinful world around us, we don’t feel that we are very sinful. Our sins seem small and insignificant. But when we look into God’s throne room, like Isaiah did, then we realize how big our sin is. We will talk more about this in a moment. For now, remember that to hate sin we need to get closer to God. The closer we are to God, the more time we spend with Him, the more our hatred for sin will grow naturally.
C. He will judge sin. Hebrews 9:27 – And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.
God’s justice flows from His holiness. Because God is all-good He will one day judge all sin. One of two people will take the judgment for your sin, either you or Jesus.
What is true worship?
One of the things we see in this passage is that the angels full time job appears to be worshiping God. If there is anywhere where worship is done correctly, it should be the throne room of God, right? In His throne room, God is going to be worshiped how He wants to be worshiped. So from the angels we can learn an important lesson about the nature of true worship.
True worship is extolling, lifting up, God’s character. True worship is God focused. The angels are focused on God’s character and on His work in the world.
One of the key problems with many worship songs in the world today is simple: they aren’t really worshipful. How many times do the angels mention “I” in their song? Zero. They are not thinking about themselves. They are thinking about God. What is the application for us?
We must worship God in the way that He wants to be worshiped. And that means we must focus on God, His character, and His work, and not ourselves. This applies to every one of us. It applies to worship leaders who lead worship at church. It applies to worship leaders who lead family worship at home. And it applies to individuals as we choose the songs that we sing and listen to. Here are a few simple questions you can ask yourself before singing a worship song:
A. Is God the focus or me? We focus on ourselves enough already. By nature we are selfish creatures. We are focused on our own lives, our own problems, our own feelings. If there is anytime when we need to get the focus off of ourselves and on God, it is during worship. He is on the throne. He is the Creator. He is the most valuable, the most desirable, the most absolutely perfect Being in the universe. He is the center of everything. Worshiping Him changes our focus from ourselves our concerns to the reality in heaven.
B. Is God mentioned more times or me? (Note, it doesn’t mean we can never sing song about our desire to follow God, but it does mean we should be careful about making ourselves the center.)
C. Is the song true? The angels sang “holy, holy, holy.” What they sang was true and theologically sound.
D. Does it please God? Quote from RC Sproul -““The worship to which we are called in our renewed state is far too important to be left to personal preferences, to whims, or to marketing strategies. It is the pleasing of God that is at the heart of worship. Therefore, our worship must be informed at every point by the Word of God as we seek God’s own instructions for worship that is pleasing to Him. It is the pleasing of God that is at the heart of worship.”
God’s name is holy and should be respected – From the beginning Satan has tried to bring God down. In the Garden of Eden, he attempted to cast doubt on God’s goodness, implying that he was keeping Adam and Eve from something good. And now one of his methods is to get people to misuse the very name of God. In Isaiah 6 we see that God is awesome, glorious, and holy.
Exodus 20:7 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
God’s name is so holy and so important that one of the ten commandments is to respect His name. We are commanded not to take His name in vain. What does that mean? It means to do anything that dishonors His name. It is any inappropriate use of His name. I will tell you the most common way His name is taken in vain today. Many people say, “Oh my God.” Sometimes they do this in anger. Sometimes in surprise. This is taking God’s name in vain. And He says He will not hold you guiltless if you do this.
Why do people do this? Hollywood. You hear it in the movies and on TV constantly. It becomes commonplace. Its culture, a habit. Brothers and sisters, you should not get your values from Hollywood. Ask yourself this, does Hollywood revere God’s name? Of course not. We should.
I am sad to say, I often hear brothers and sisters using God’s name this way, even in church. I would like you to think for a moment. Examine your own speech. Do you ever say this? Have you said this in the last week? I believe some of you have done this in ignorance. What I mean is, you perhaps never heard or even know that this was wrong. However, now you do. So if you have done this, I would encourage you to right now confess to God for not keeping His name holy and ask Him to help change your habits. Habits of the tongue are difficult to change so you may also ask a couple of friends to pay attention to your words and if those words slip out to remind you.
Application: Our job is to declare God’s holiness and glory.
Someone once asked me, “Is God prideful? If we ask people to praise us or if we tell people how great we are, then that is pride. But God does this all the time? How can a perfect God seek His own glory.” We see that He has His angels constantly singing His praises. Is that right?
This is a good question. Sooner or later, most Christians will ask it. I answered with an illustration.
Let’s say that I am an author. I spend thousands of hours to write a book. It’s a very good book. But just before I get it published someone steals my manuscripts. They then publish the book in their own name as if it is theirs. After that they get the credit and the profit from the book that I wrote. As the rightful author, what should I do? Am I justified in taking up the case, going to the bookstores or to the court and showing proof that I wrote the book? I believe I am. It is my work, my creation. It is right and just that I receive the credit. Is that pride? No, that is justice. On the other hand, the person who is trying to steal the credit is sinning. He is trying to take what is rightfully mine and that is not just.
The same is true for a painting. If you painted a beautiful picture, you would not like it if someone erased your signature and added their own.
This can help us to understand why God seeks praise and glory for all the things He has done. He is the Creator. He is the redeemer. He is the King. He deserves the glory for what He has done. If someone else tries to take glory for themselves, it is unjust and robbing God.
When we try to glory to ourselves for our successes or achievements we are taking it away from its rightful owner, God.
Isaiah 42:8 – I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
II. Terrifying: Man’s sinfulness (5-6)
People have bucket lists about places they want to see. Niagara falls. The barrier reef.
Woe is me!
What Isaiah saw dwarfs all of these. He was given an amazing opportunity. But pay attention to his response. He wasn’t prideful that of all the people in the world, he was chosen for this privilege. His instant response was “Woe is me!” When He saw God’s holiness and glory, he was immediately overcome with the weight of his own sin. He realized the depth of wickedness in his own heart. The feelings of guilt from his own sin overwhelmed him. Sometimes this word “woe” is used in the Bible to denote an inescapable distress or a feeling of grief so serious that words can’t express it.
Is your sin serious?
When I share the good news, I often quote Romans 3:23 and then ask people, “Do you have sin?” Most people will answer, “Yes, I have sin.” Then I ask them “is your sin serious?” And most people will say “no.” Why is it that most people think their sin is not very serious?
The reason is that they are looking at the wrong standard. Their standard might be Joe next door. Or it might be popular opinion. A father might compare himself to a drunk or a domestic abuser and probably come out of the evaluation thinking that he is pretty good! The problem is these are the wrong standards.
We realize it is serious when we have the right standard (God’s holiness).
Isaiah found the right standard. He compared himself to God’s standard and he came up woefully lacking. God once wrote a divine message on the wall of Belshazzar, king of Babylon. The message said, “you have been weighed and found lacking.” He was far short of God’s standard. Isaiah weighed himself and found that he was lacking. He wasn’t close. He wasn’t almost there. A couple of small tweaks wouldn’t solve this. Isaiah didn’t just need to turn over a new leaf. By himself, he was completely hopeless.
Isaiah goes on to say, “I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
Isaiah understood the depth of his sin. Remember Isaiah is about to become a prophet. As far as I know, there is not one word recorded of his in the Bible that is sinful. Compared to the people around him, he was holier and more righteous than most. But he didn’t become complacent in this. Seeing God, he came face to face with himself and he didn’t like what he saw. And he felt guilty. Guilt is not a nice feeling.
People seek to escape feelings of guilt.
In the world today, people try to avoid guilt. Rather than facing up to one’s own sins, people run away and try to escape, to lose themselves. They want to distract themselves from thinking about their own lost condition. I saw an article this week, “5 places to escape reality.”
People seek to escape in:
It promised escape to the islands. Escape to the jungle. Escape from the city. Escape to the desert. People escape in movies. They escape in romance novels. They escape by thrill seeking. They escape through video games, living in an anonymous world and pursuing the latest skin upgrade to their favorite character. And one of the newest ways to escape, virtual reality.
People don’t want to be confronted with their guilt. They don’t want to think about the meaning of life. They don’t want to contemplate death or judgment or sin. So they escape. They make themselves busy in trivialities to avoid being swamped by grief. In the process they are more lost than ever.
Brothers and sisters, its time to come face to face with who we are. Its time to take a good, long look in the mirror.
Let’s look in the mirror: who are we?
God has given us this mirror. It is His Word. His Word shows His standards and how we fall short. His Spirit convicts us of our sin and guilt. So who are we?
Here are just a few of the sins mentioned in the Bible.
Walking in the flesh
Lovers of self
Lovers of pleasure
The Bible talks about all of these sins and more. That is who we are. All of us. I read a list this week that had 667 different sins listed so this is only a small sample.
When Isaiah saw God, he saw himself in that list. And he was overwhelmed by it.
Have you come to the point where you can say “Woe is me?”
We are all there in this list. We must come face to face with ourselves. Before we can move forward to the place God wants us to go, we must first like Isaiah say, “Woe is me! I am unclean.” If we don’t recognize that, or if we don’t take it seriously and seek escape and pleasure in trivialities, then we will have to remain there, lost, swamped in the sea of our own sin, with no hope of real escape.
But of course this is not the end of the story. God did not reveal this to Isaiah to rub him in his own guilt. No. He did it to show him the true way of escape. The only real way of escape is through God’s mercy and forgiveness.
It is true that we are terrible sinners. But this is not the whole picture. It is also true that God created us in His image. We have great value in His sight. He loves us. He wants to cleanse us from all these things. He wants to set us free.
III. God’s forgiveness (6-7)
Moving forward from “woe is me.”
It is good to come to the point where we can say “woe is me.” But God does not want us to stay there. God does not want us living our whole lives saying “woe is me.” He does not want us walking around constantly talking about our own sins and shortcomings. He does not want us to throw a pity party for ourselves. The prodigal son was feeding pigs and despairing at what he had done. But he left that place and went back and his father celebrated and made a feast.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” It is right to mourn over sin. But we don’t have to mourn forever. Look what happened to Isaiah in verses 6-7.
Isaiah 6:6-7 – Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Your guilt is taken away. Your sin atoned for. Amen! That list we just read out, gone, buried, burned. Isaiah was overwhelmed with guilt. He could not escape or get rid of it on his own. God took it away just like that.
But note when God did this.
He only took away Isaiah’s guilt after Isaiah confessed. Isaiah recognized it. He confessed it verbally. Then God forgave him. That is how we receive forgiveness.
1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1. Do you know that your sin is serious? Have you sought to minimize it or justify it or escape from confronting it? If you have never had your own Isaiah 6 moment, then come face to face with your sin today, and confess. Just tell the Lord, “I have sinned. I am unclean. I have fallen short of your holy standards. He will remove your sin and take away your guilt.
2. If you have confessed, then embrace God’s forgiveness. He has cleansed you. He has taken your sin away. He has taken it as far as the east is from the west. Do not live in the past. Do not walk around slumped over because of the weight of your sin. God has removed it. Look forward, not backward. Thank Him for His awesome love and forgiveness.
People become like the God they worship. And our God is holy. He is not just one holy. He is “holy, holy, holy” for all eternity. His holiness is infinite. On the other hand, we have also seen our own sinfulness. We have committed too many sins to count. We would drown in a sea of sin and guilt of our own making, but, but… God in His infinite holiness takes away our sin if we ask Him too. And then He tells us:
1 Peter 1:16 – You shall be holy for I am holy.
A seeming impossible task. But He replaces our sin with His righteousness. And He gives us the strength to have victory over sin. Now turn to your neighbor and say “Be holy for He is holy, holy, holy.”
Let us close in prayer. As we pray, let us first come face to face with our own sin. Tell God what you have done and ask for His forgiveness. And as you pray thank God for His holiness. Come before Him in worship and praise. Ask Him to help you be holy as He is holy.
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