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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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GRACE AND HOLINESS

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV)

Samuel A CainThis was the cry of Isaiah ben Amoz when he was confronted with the holiness of God. Isaiah was a well-respected man who was also a member of Israel’s royal family. By the traditions of Israel and its Law, Isaiah was considered to be a righteous man.

So, why would a man like Isaiah call down a curse of doom on himself? The next thing he says is, “I am ruined!” Older translations used the phrase, “For I am undone.” The idea being communicated by Isaiah is that he is coming apart at the seams and falling to pieces. Everything he thought about himself: his self-image; his standing in the Jewish community, his self-respect; his moral character and self-confidence came crashing down in that moment. (Isaiah 6:5 ESV)

Can you imagine standing in the gaze of a holy, holy, holy God? The repetition of the word “holy” three times by the seraphim in their worship chorus exalts God to the highest level of perfect holiness. (Isaiah 6:3 ESV) In Hebrew, the repetition of a word is a technique for placing a higher level of degree or emphasis on it.

Isaiah ben Amoz is instantly aware that the LORD sees right through the pretentious defense mechanisms that guard his self-esteem. All his secrets and sins are revealed to God’s instantaneous scrutiny – everything! Isaiah feels filthy and vile. This is the reason Isaiah would curse himself. He would rather the mountains fall on him than endure the gaze of God. Indeed, who of us could bear it?

Isaiah then cries out:

I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! (Isaiah 6:5 ESV)

Isaiah confesses his guilt and the guilt of his people. Do you think it odd that he should confess the iniquities of the mouth specifically? Meditate on this verse from James:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (James 3:6 ESV)

When we confess our sins to the Lord in prayer, the words created by our lips and tongues are probably a good place to begin. We all sin against our neighbors by the things we say about them. Notice particularly that James says the tongue may set “on fire the entire course of life…”

Our holy God, however, is a God of holy mercy and grace. A seraphim flies to Isaiah holding a burning coal with tongs from the altar. He presses it against Isaiah’s lips and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:7 ESV) I am reminded of the verse in 1 John 1:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)

The God we must serve is holy, holy, holy. He is not our best friend, co-pilot, or Santa Claus. God does not measure our sanctification by the standard of our neighbors’ righteousness. The holiness of God is the standard. “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment…” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV) The natural man is incapable of the holiness that God demands.

How then can we escape the punishment to come? We cannot! But God who is rich in mercy makes us alive with Christ according to His grace. We are saved by grace through faith and even our faith is the gift of God. God enables us to carry out those good works which He created us to accomplish. (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV) It is all by the grace of a holy, holy, holy God. Our calling, regeneration, repentance, faith, justification, and sanctification are all gifts from the One who is high and lifted up as He sits upon the throne of the universe.

O LORD, what is man that you are even conscious of him? (Psalm 8:4 ESV) We are now the children of God and our transformation is not concluded; but when Jesus appears we shall see Him and be like Him. (1 John 3:2 ESV) For God’s luminescence has shone in our hearts that we may grow in our knowledge of Him and reflect His holiness in our interactions with others.

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