The Holiness of God
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (v. 3).- Isaiah 6:1-7
If there is anything we learn from the prophets, especially Isaiah, it is that ancient Israel and Judah failed miserably in their calling to be a holy nation (Ex. 19:1–6). Holiness is a theme woven throughout Scripture, so we need to understand it, particularly in relation to our Lord’s character and demands. For the next few days, we will pause our study of the Old Testament prophets and take a closer look at holiness using The Holiness of God, a teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
One of the most instructive passages on holiness is Isaiah 6:1–7 and its account of Isaiah’s call to the prophetic office. God called Isaiah to ministry via a vision wherein the prophet saw the Lord Himself sitting on His throne with the train of His robe filling the temple (v. 1). Given that the garments of a monarch are an indication of the ruler’s status, this observation about the train of God’s robe is significant. Our Creator is so majestic in glory that His garment takes up the entire temple.
Note also the seraphim, who cannot bear to look directly at the Lord (v. 2). Since unfallen creatures cannot bear to look at the Almighty’s glory, how much more do sinners fear His visage. After Moses caught a brief glimpse of the Lord’s back, his face shone so brightly that the Israelites, in fear, implored him to cover his face (Ex. 33:12–34:35).
In their worship of God, the seraphim declare the holiness of God three times (Isa. 6:3). Their “holy, holy, holy” emphasizes the importance of holiness to the Lord’s character. His holiness is inherent to His being, not something to trifle with. After Isaiah’s exposure to this majestic holiness, he quakes in fear, declaring a woe on himself. This is not unremarkable, given what Scripture tells us about other theophanies or visions of God (Job 42:1–6). Yet we might consider it a strange response since the prophets were the Lord’s most righteous servants in those days. Isaiah would have been regarded as one of the holiest men of his era, but the vision of the holy God terrified him.
Compared to other men, Isaiah was holy indeed. But he knew his righteousness was nothing in light of God’s absolute perfection (Lev. 11:44). Isaiah’s best deeds, he tells us later in his book, were nothing but polluted garments (Isa. 64:6). The prophet’s vision and teaching remind us that the Lord does not grade on a curve. Because we break God’s law every day, we would respond to a true vision of Him just like Isaiah did.
Alone among the religions of the world, Christianity teaches that God does not grade on a curve. If we think that He will let us into heaven if our good deeds outweigh our bad, we are sadly mistaken. One sin is enough to banish us from His blessed presence forever. Though most of us likely confess this truth with our lips, getting it into our souls takes a lifetime. May we recall God’s perfect holiness and our desperate plight so that we never trust in our own works to set us right with Him.
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 2:2
Isaiah 8:11–15; 43:15