The Holiness of God

I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for 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!’” (v. 5)

- Isaiah 6:1–7

Correctly understanding the depth of human sin will give us a more accurate understanding of how far we have fallen in Adam, and, therefore, also the original dignity and position that God made us to possess as His image-bearers. But we cannot understand the depth of humanity’s evil until we know something of the backdrop against which our sin stands out. We are talking, of course, about the perfect holiness of the Lord, and today’s passage is one of the clearest presentations of this divine attribute in all of Scripture.

Isaiah’s call to ministry is well known, and it is remarkable for what it says about Isaiah and all other human beings. Without a doubt, the prophet was one of the most righteous and holy men in all of Judah, for the prophets were generally known for their piety and devotion to our Creator. Consequently, one might expect Isaiah to be confident in the presence of God and for the Lord to praise His servant for His goodness. Yet that is not what happened when Isaiah met Yahweh “in the year that King Uzziah died” (Isa. 6:1). Confronted with a vision of God on His throne, Isaiah could only proclaim an oracle of woe upon himself (v. 5). An oracle of woe was the worst prophecy that could be given of a nation or an individuals, and here Isaiah applies it to himself for his uncleanness (v. 5). As holy as Isaiah might have been in comparison to the other Judahites in his day, he was absolutely filthy in comparison to the Lord God Almighty.

The Lord does not respond to Isaiah’s woe by telling him that he really was not that bad or that he was being melodramatic. Instead, God atones for the prophet’s sin (vv. 6–7). That is the only way any sinner can survive in the presence of the most holy Creator. This is true even for those who have not sinned heinously. Isaiah was not a murderer or adulterer. He was not guilty of idolatry. He only possessed “unclean lips,” which from a human perspective does not seem all that bad. That is especially true in the coarse and vulgar culture of our own day. But Isaiah knew that the standard creatures must meet to be righteous before God is perfection. Even one slip of the tongue was enough to require atonement.

The Lord bestowed His image upon humanity, so we were originally created holy and upright. Because even the best of us now lacks this holiness and in Adam hates God, we cannot stand before Him unafraid unless He saves us. The gospel tells us that He has provided salvation for His people, and our study of Romans will demonstrate how this is so.

Coram Deo

Dr. R.C. Sproul has often pointed out that the threefold repetition of “holy” in today’s passage indicates the vital importance of God’s holiness. The Lord clearly wants us to understand that He is holy, and we must understand this before we can truly understand our need for the gospel. Take some time today to meditate on Isaiah 6 and consider what it tells us about the holiness of God, our sin, and the glory of God’s grace.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 39:7
Revelation 4

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