“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.” (Isaiah 6:6-7).
To truly know God is to know that He is, according to Isaiah 6:1-3, holy, holy, holy. I Peter 1:15-16 says, “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Peter refers us to Leviticus 11:44. In Isaiah 6, we see one of the most striking accounts of not only the holiness of God but also the un-holiness of man.
To truly know God is to recognize and understand that He is holy, holy, holy, and that we are not. He is set apart from sin, while we belong and revel in sin. How then can sinful creatures ever hope to eternally be in the presence of this God who is holy, holy, holy? Our only hope or confidence is in the gracious redemption of the LORD.
God is the one who takes the initiative in cleansing sinners from their sin. This is illustrated by one of the seraphim angels who, with one set of his wings, flies to Isaiah. The angel has in his hand a burning coal taken with tongs presumably from the Altar of Incense.
The angel touches the prophet’s mouth with the burning coal. With that touch from God by His angelic emissary, the angel states that Isaiah’s sinful guilt is removed and his sin is atoned for and forgiven. Isaiah is forgiven and is now useful for God not on the basis of anything the prophet could have done, but solely based on the gracious mercy of God.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “The hot coal taken from the altar of incense in heaven (cf. Revelation 8:3–5) is emblematic of God’s purifying work. Repentance is painful.”
Dr. R. C. Sproul adds, “The purification is specifically applied to the point of his sin—his lips—making the prophet acceptable as a minister of God’s words (Jeremiah 1:9).”
Dr. James Montgomery Boice explains that this scene is foreign to the fallen world’s understanding of God and His holiness along with its understanding of its own sinfulness and depravity. I extensively quote from this late pastor because his words are incredibly insightful.
“If there is any doctrine that rivals God’s sovereignty in importance it is the holiness of God. But do we have any sense or appreciation of the holiness of God in our churches today? David Wells writes that God’s holiness weighs “lightly upon us.” Why? Holiness involves God’s transcendence. It involves majesty, the authority of sovereign power, stateliness or grandeur. It embraces the idea of God’s sovereign majestic will, a will that is set upon proclaiming himself to be who he truly is: God alone, who will not allow his glory to be diminished by another. Yet we live in an age when everything is exposed, where there are no mysteries and no surprises, where even the most intimate personal secrets of our lives are blurted out over television (or on Facebook) to entertain the masses. We are contributing to this frivolity when we treat God as our celestial buddy who indulges us in the banalities of our day-to-day lives.”
Dr. Boice continues by writing, “Perhaps the greatest problem of all in regard to our neglect of God’s holiness is that holiness is a standard against which human sin is exposed, which is why in Scripture exposure to God always produces feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment and terror in the worshiper. These are all painful emotions, and we are doing everything possible in our culture to avoid them. One evidence of this is the way we have eliminated sin as a serious category for describing human actions. Karl Menninger asked the question years ago with his classic book, Whatever Became of Sin? He answered his own question by arguing that when we banished God from our cultural landscape we changed sin into crime (because it is now no longer an offense against God but rather an offense against the state) and then we changed crimes into symptoms. Sin is now something that is someone else’s fault. It is caused by my environment, my parents or my genes. But once again, this is not simply a problem outside the church. We too have bought into today’s therapeutic approach so that we no longer call our many and manifold transgressions sin or confront sin directly, calling for repentance before God. Instead we send our people to counselors to work through why they are acting in an “unhealthy” manner, to find “healing.”
Dr. Boice concludes by stating, “David Wells claims that “holiness fundamentally defines the character of God.” But “robbed of such a God, worship loses its awe, the truth of his Word loses its ability to compel, obedience loses its virtue, and the church loses its moral authority.” It is time for the evangelical churches to recover the Bible’s insistence that God is holy above all things and explore what that must mean for our individual and corporate lives. To begin with we need to preach from those great passages of the Bible in which people were exposed to God’s awe-inspiring majesty and holiness. If nothing else, we need to preach the Law without which preaching the Gospel loses its power and eventually even its meaning.”
As believers in Christ, we must insist our pastors preach the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:1-5) and not just tell amusing stories for ten minutes which follows 50 minutes of high-energy, entertaining music. Not only must we insist our pastors preach God’s Word, we must take effort to thank them when they do.
We must approach God, individually and corporately, not with casualness and frivolity but with reverence and awe in our worship; befitting His holiness. Worship is not about us being entertained but rather God being honored and glorified.
Consequently, we must live for the glory of God in obedience to His Word. This means guarding our hearts (Proverbs 4:23-27), no longer being conformed to this world (Romans 12:1), but being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14).
Soli deo Gloria!