A Personal, Initially Painful, but Ultimately Pleasing Encounter with the Holiness of God (4)
This is our final study of Isaiah 6. The practical application we find in this encounter with the holiness of God is profound. There are five things to note: (1) Personal holiness begins with an awareness of who God is. (2) An awareness of who God is leads to an awareness of who we are. (3) An awareness of who we are leads to personal confession and repentance. (4) Repentance leads to forgiveness and cleansing. (5) Forgiveness leads to mission.
We must never forget that personal transformation is the product, not so much of seeing the ugliness of sin as seeing the beauty of the Savior. See 2 Corinthians 3:18. Isaiah was awakened to the horror of his sin only because he saw the holiness of his God. Nothing on earth in the course of what must have been a full and fascinating life had ever awakened Isaiah to the presence and depth of his sin the way this experience did.
No teaching he had received, no exhortation from parent or friend or colleague, no warning about verbal sins, . . . nothing had brought him the quality of conviction that truly transforms. It was only when he saw the indescribably surpassing and incomparable character of God that his heart was stung with the anguish of conviction. Personal holiness thus begins with an awareness of who God is. Perhaps that's why so few people are or care to be holy: they've never “seen” God, which is to say they know little if anything of the magnitude of his holy majesty, his infinite, uncreated righteousness.
Awareness of who God is leads inevitably to an awareness of who we are. Self-image, the concept we have of ourselves, must begin not by looking in the mirror but by looking into the face of God. Few have expressed this more cogently than John Calvin (1509-64), who insisted that no one ever achieves
“a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God's face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy – this pride is innate in all of us [even in Isaiah, I might add] – unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured” (Institutes, I:I:2).
This self-awareness in turn inevitably leads to brokenness and pain, followed by confession and repentance. One need only reflect on the emotional spiritual anguish of Isaiah. His physical agony was but a portrait of his spiritual discomfort. True knowledge of God always leads to repentance. This in turn leads to cleansing and forgiveness. The holiness of God that first hurts, then heals. Finally, cleansing leads to commissioning. Mercy leads to ministry. Having seen God, what else is there to say but: “Here I am [Lord]. Send me” (Isa. 6:8).
In conclusion, let’s circle back around to where we began. John the Apostle makes it unmistakably clear that the glory Isaiah saw and encountered was the glory of the pre-incarnate Son of God (see John 12:41).
So, how will you respond to the Lord Jesus Christ? Isaiah saw his glory, and as a result felt the crushing weight of his sin, experienced the burning fire of forgiveness and cleansing, and undertook the mission God had given him. How will you react? What do you say to what you have seen in Scripture concerning Jesus? May we not leave this incredible biblical text without asking and answering that question for ourselves.