Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And with it he touched my mouth and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.” (Is 6:5-7)
This passage is perfect for me today! I just studied sin with someone, and as I was preparing, I saw that I needed more clarity on what I want to communicate to others about sin. I really want to be sure that I am speaking from a place that makes total sense to me and reflects my deepest convictions.
And this is the answer to what I was looking for. In these verses, Isaiah communicates his reaction to seeing the Lord sitting on his throne (verse 1). He has an absolute realization of his sinfulness. He has a terrifying certainty that a sinful person cannot see the face of God without being doomed.
And that makes it clear to me what I want to stress to others about sin. They have to see the stark reality that, without atonement, they are a people of unclean lips before the King, the Lord of Hosts. There is a gulf between them and God. And no matter WHAT they do, they will never be able to bridge that gulf.
They also have to see that the gulf is their fault. They can’t blame it on others. They can’t blame it on the way the world is, or the way their life has been. They can’t say, “God knows my heart.”
They can’t be cavalier. They can’t just take God for granted, and approach him in prayer with a sloppy attitude towards personal righteousness, like he’s their pal.
Because God is GOD. His nature is so holy and fearsome that people who came into his presence were in danger of their lives. He told Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through to see the LORD, lest many of them perish. Even the priests who approach the LORD must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.” (Ex 19:21)
The Bible is filled with examples of people who didn’t fear the Lord, and died as a result — Nadab and Abihu (Nu 3:4), Uzzah (II Sam 6:6-7), the Israelites who complained in the desert (Nu 14), Ananais and Saphira (Acts 5:3).
So it is of prime importance that we study sin with people to remind them of what their state is before God without atonement.
And then the second part of Isaiah 6:6-7 becomes all the more powerful to us today. We see how Isaiah is quaking with fear because he knows his sin is incompatible with the presence of the Lord. And then we see the utter relief that must have been felt when his guilt was removed as the angel touched a glowing coal to his mouth.
We also must experience this utter relief when we receive atonement. Hebrews expresses it so well, “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. . . let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:14, 22)
Unless we truly see the fearful position our sin puts us in before the holiness of the Lord, we will not appreciate how astounding and welcome is the gift of salvation. That provides a motivation for us to serve the Lord in totality all of our days. As Romans 6:13 reads, in part, “Give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life.”
Surely, just as the seraphim exclaimed, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” in the preceding verses, we can exclaim, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” as we continually appreciate our ability to come into the Lord’s presence and live.