God Is Holy – Isaiah Ch6v1–7

God Is Holy – Isaiah Ch6v1–7

(0:00 – 2:56)

Asking the question, what is God like? What is God like? And each week we’re answering that by saying God is something. God is something. So last week God is love, and this week God is holy.

And we’re getting these, of course, from the Bible. So we’re not guessing who God is, we are discovering who He is from the Scriptures themselves. And one of the things God is, is that God is holy.

Let’s open up our Bible to Isaiah chapter 6, please. Probably the best known passage on the holiness of God. And there’s a reason that that’s the case.

This chapter tells us so much about what God’s holiness means. So let’s read Isaiah 6 from verse 1. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings.

With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another, holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory.

At the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke. 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. Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, see, this has touched your lips.

Your guilt is taken away. Your sin is atoned for. This is the words of the Lord.

The holiness of God is the most prominent attribute of God in the Bible. Now, I didn’t say it’s the most important attribute of God. All of God’s attributes are His attributes, and all of them, therefore, are important.

(2:56 – 11:55)

But it is nonetheless the most frequent and the most favorite way of describing God in the Bible. Over 600 times in Scripture, God is called holy. In Isaiah’s prophecy alone, God is called the Holy One of Israel some 25 times.

And so it must be worthy of our time. It must be critical to our knowledge of God. It must be vital to our gospel understanding that we know at least something of what the holiness of God means.

Of course, inevitably, this is going to stretch our limited minds. And yet God has given us passages like Isaiah 6, I assume, so that we with limited minds can know something, can know more of mysterious subjects like the holiness of God. And so if we all go away knowing a little bit more, then I will be very satisfied that my prayers this week have been answered.

So what is God’s holiness? What does it mean when we say God is holy? Well, I think it starts with the idea that God is other. God is other. If we just start with the word itself, we’re going to get to the passage in a moment.

If we just start with the word itself, holy, this word has the idea of something that is separate. When something is holy, that thing is separate from other things. It is different, distinct, set apart.

And when applied to God, it means that God is separate. God is distinct. God is set apart.

God stands apart from his creation. He is God. He is holy.

Don Carson writes about holiness. He says that holy is really just an adjective for God. It’s an adjective for the godness of God.

To say that God is holy is really just to say that God is God. He stands alone. There is none like him.

That in terms of the word itself is what holy means. And this is the word that comes in Isaiah chapter 6. Isaiah has this vision of the thrice holy God. The angels before the throne praise God as holy, not just once or even twice, but three times.

The English author Andrew Wilson has this brilliant little comment where he says that if you speak to the average man in the street and you ask the average Joe, what is God like, they will all tell you God is love. And he says if you speak to people in the church and you say to people in the church, what is God like, that they’ll tell you a bunch of things because they know a little bit more than just the fact that God is love. They’ll tell you a bunch of things.

But he says this, if you ask an angel what is God like, an angel will undoubtedly tell you that God is holy. Right? Because that’s what we see in Isaiah chapter 6. And that is also what we see later in Revelation chapter 4, which is the only other time in the Bible when three times God is called holy. It happens in Isaiah 6 and it happens in Revelation 4, and both times it’s on the lips of angels.

And both times the angels call God holy, holy, holy. It’s remarkable that, isn’t it? You think about the timeline there. Isaiah’s prophecy and the time of John the Apostle in Revelation, like we’re talking about 800 years apart, an 800 year gap.

And 800 years after the angels first said God was holy, they’re still saying it before the throne. They’ve still got the same answer. God is holy, holy, holy.

So this is central to who God is. But what does it mean? Can we say, can we sort of expand on that a little more? Can we say a little more than just God is other, God is separate? Can we fill that out? Well, we can because Isaiah 6 is here to help us. So this passage delves into the detail of the otherness of God.

So let’s look at just a few aspects of this. And I’m sure Isaiah is not telling us everything there is to know of God’s otherness, but notice these things. First of all, that God is other in his eternity, in his eternity.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. Uzziah was a king of Judah. He was one of the better kings of Judah.

He was one of the longest reigning kings. Uzziah reigned for 52 years on the throne of Judah. He was a kind of Queen Elizabeth sort of monarch, the kind of monarch that seems to go on and on and on.

And yet in a certain year Uzziah died. And in that year, Isaiah looks up in his vision and he sees another king who is always seated on the throne. And there’s something here of the otherness of God in his eternity.

God is not time limited in his reign. He is eternal. And then there’s the otherness of God’s sovereignty here, his sovereignty.

I saw the Lord high and exalted, seated on a throne. There’s something to look out for. When you read in the Bible, I know this seems like a really obvious thing, but I didn’t think about this very much.

Have you noticed how often in the Bible, God is described in terms of height, height. God’s always up above us, up there. Psalm 2 says that God is enthroned in heaven.

Psalm 103 says that God is enthroned in the skies. Have you noticed in Scripture when God comes to meet people, particularly early in the Bible, God comes to the top of mountains. Now, it’s not that God lives on mountains as other deities and other religions and gods and goddesses are meant to live on mountains.

God doesn’t live on mountains, but he comes, he stoops down because he’s even higher than that. He stoops down and he meets with man on the top of mountains. And all of that is conveying something of the high sovereignty of God.

He’s high and exalted. He’s above any earthly power. On a week of an election campaign being announced, this is helpful for us to bear in mind, isn’t it? That the power they are all going to scramble and fight over is utterly puny and time limited compared to the eternal reign of God.

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that the decisions of the election won’t have an impact on people’s lives. Of course it matters.

But we’re saying that human power is nothing compared to the lofty sovereign rule that God wields from eternity to eternity. God’s other in his eternity. He’s other in his sovereignty.

He is other, here’s something else that holiness means. He’s other in his beauty. His beauty, the train of his robe filled the temple.

(11:55 – 12:46)

Of course, this is just imagery here to convey an idea. The train of his robe. Think of the train of a bride’s gown as it fills the aisle behind her.

That’s the kind of imagery here. But notice here that the train of this robe, it doesn’t just fill the aisle. It’s so large and grand that it fills the entire temple.

So if this was a wedding, all the wedding guests would need to get shooed out of the room because there’d be no room for the wedding guests because the train would fill the entire building. That’s the picture. This is a beauty and a grandeur that is unmatched.

(12:47 – 17:16)

Part of what holiness is, part of what it is, is the idea that God is unique in his beauty. Stephen Charnock, a Puritan, says this, power is God’s hand and arm. Omniscience is his eye, mercy his heart, eternity his duration, and holiness his beauty.

All of that is found in verse 1, if we don’t just rush through it. All of that’s found in verse 1. That God’s holiness is his otherness in things like eternity, sovereignty, beauty. But also, as we move forward in the passage, he is other in his purity.

His purity. And I think this is often what comes to mind when we think of the holiness of God. We think of God’s ethical and moral qualities, and rightly so.

Although we must realize, of course, that God’s holiness, we’ve just seen that, is broader than just his morality, but it’s not less than that. In a world of sin, purity is part of God’s otherness. And that’s what Isaiah crumbles under in verses 5 and 6. When he stands before God as God, Isaiah becomes aware of who he is, a man of unclean lips.

You see, Isaiah can’t match the purity of the God who speaks to his creation. God can speak to him with holiness, but he can’t speak holy words back. He can’t speak without sin on his lips, because there is sin in his heart.

And actually, when you think about that, if we stopped there in the passage, this would be a very dispiriting sermon, wouldn’t it? If we stopped just there, we would be in awe of God, certainly if we stopped at this point. But we surely wouldn’t dare draw near to God. To realize simply that God is other than us in all these different ways, and that he is utterly unlike us in his purity.

Therefore, we would be asking, well, how can we know him? How can we approach him? How can we come to sit with him at a table tonight in fellowship? The holiness of God becomes a barrier at this point. There is indeed here separation. But I just love how the passage unfolds, because Isaiah surely wasn’t expecting what happened next.

He probably thought God was just going to agree with him when he said, woe to me, I’m ruined. Maybe God was just going to speak back and say, of course you are. Yes, you are ruined.

But instead, God dispatches an angel who goes to the altar, which I take it is the altar of sacrifice. He brings a coal from the altar in some tongues, and he touches Isaiah’s sinful lips with the burning coal from the altar, which is a picture of purification. He says, your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.

I take it the key thing there is that the coal is associated with the sacrifice, the blood sacrifice of atonement. And in the basis of that sacrifice of atonement, unclean Isaiah has his sin taken away, removed completely. And that’s already starting to hint to us, even in Isaiah, even 600 years before Christ, it’s starting to hint to us where the whole story of the Bible is actually going.

(17:16 – 17:31)

It’s not going towards judgment for all sinners. It’s going to take this surprising twist, and it’s going to take us to our second point tonight. Our first point is that God is other.

(17:32 – 17:48)

He’s essentially unlike us in lots of ways, particularly in his purity. But secondly, in grace, the holy God draws near. In grace, the holy God draws near.

(17:48 – 20:05)

Now, this is one of the things I’ve been reflecting on this week. Although separateness is definitely a word we can use when we talk about holiness. There’s a reason I’ve chosen the word other rather than separate as my definition.

I think I prefer the word other because the word separateness in itself doesn’t capture a very important fact that the holy one in the Bible draws near. He draws near. The holy draws near.

Yes, God remains God. God is always other. He’s always God.

But actually, the wonder of the gospel and the paradox of holiness is that the holy God who we shouldn’t be able to approach, who we shouldn’t be able to speak to as one might speak to a friend, is the very God who comes near to us. If I could put it this way, the God who is holy and other doesn’t desire to keep himself separate from human beings. The separate one doesn’t like being separate from us.

And we see that in the Old Testament, don’t we? Although the encounters with God are often frightening, we see God encountering people, appearing to an Abraham or a Moses, and then meeting with the whole people in the tabernacle and then in the temple. And what’s that all about? What are all those chapters about the tent and the tabernacle about? And why, in all their details that can seem mundane, why are they actually thrilling chapters if we really understand them? Well, because what they are saying is that the God who is high and holy and perfect and eternal and utterly unlike us, this God wants not just to come to the top of mountains to meet with one or two individuals like Moses, but he actually wants to come down even further and he wants to live in the neighborhood. He wants to live among us all.

(20:06 – 22:13)

Oh, he’s no ordinary neighbor. I mean, if you read the whole thing around the tabernacle, particularly in that era of history, you better not just rush into God’s door as you would anyone else. But it’s an astonishing concept at all that the God who is exalted in the highest heaven should want to be anywhere near us.

Friends, this is amazing grace and a different view of holiness. We often think of holiness as only to do with the otherness of God, but God’s holiness is complex. It’s other, but it’s near.

It’s high, but it comes low. We fear it in our sin, but God makes a way for us to draw near. It’s striking.

When you look at this in Revelation 4 and you see the angels again saying, holy, holy, holy, there’s a noticeable addition in that scene. Because as you probably know, Revelation 4 really sits with Revelation 5 as a pair. And you discover that in that throne room of God in 800 years later, in that vision of John, you discover that there’s something there that there wasn’t in the vision of Isaiah 6. What is there in Revelation 4 and 5 that isn’t there in Isaiah 6? There is a lamb there.

John says in chapter 5, he looked and he saw a lamb that looked as if it had been slain. How is it that we can have more confidence than trembling Isaiah had? Because God isn’t any less holy tonight than he was in Isaiah’s day. And yet there is a difference.

(22:15 – 23:58)

Living as we do on this side of the cross, what’s the difference? How can we, in the words of the author of Hebrews, draw near to God with confidence? Revelation gives you the answer. There is a lamb in the throne room of the holy. That’s our confidence.

That’s why we dare approach the eternal throne. You know, when you sing that old hymn, and can it be? I don’t know how you find the line when it says, bold I approach the eternal throne. How bold do you feel when you sing that line? Really, how bold do you actually feel? How many of us, if we’re honest, feel remotely bold to approach the eternal throne? Knowing our sins as we do, any confidence that we have, any boldness that we have, surely comes only because there’s a lamb in the presence of the holy.

And maybe if we’re sort of reluctant to come to God at a time like this, or if we’re reluctant in our daily prayers and we think, I can’t come. Maybe the problem is not that we’re seeing our sin. We’re seeing that all right.

(23:59 – 25:16)

But maybe the problem is that we’re not seeing the lamb in the presence of the holy. He’s the one who gives us confidence. Because through faith in Christ and our union with Christ, the holy God makes sinners like us holy.

And that’s where we’re going to end things this evening. Here’s the full message. God is other, but by grace the holy God draws near and makes sinners like us holy.

Now, I’m not going to say too much in this point, because our holiness, our holiness is a whole message in itself. But the staggering thing is that this is the gospel. The gospel is that a holy God has given his holy son so that by his holy spirit, sinners like us can be made into a holy people.

And actually, the holiness of God, and this is amazing, the holiness of God is actually something that we can, in some respects, share in. Now, that is remarkable. Some of God’s attributes we can’t share in.

(25:17 – 26:47)

Other attributes he does share with us. You can’t share in the fact that God is omnipresent. He is everywhere all the time.

You are one place at one time. And you chose to be here this evening, didn’t you? You can share in the love of God. God loves, you can love.

The remarkable thing is that you would expect, out of all God’s attributes, you would expect the holiness of God to be surely the one attribute that God would not share, right? Because holiness, what does it mean? It means otherness. It means the Godness, the difference that God is. But the remarkable thing is that the Bible says that God makes sinners holy.

Through the work of Jesus on the cross, God puts us in the category of the other, as he sets us apart from a sinful world, as we become the people of the holy God. And so there’s this status change, there’s this positional change. And more than that, there’s also a moral change that comes with it.

(26:48 – 27:22)

We know when God says in the New Testament, be holy because I am holy, it’s clear that he’s calling for us to live lives in a way that reflect his purity, his morality, his righteousness. There is a moral component to that. So holiness, as we find it applied to the Christian, is both a position you are given by grace and something that you practice every day, right? It’s a position, it’s a status.

(27:24 – 28:45)

Paul even says of the Christians in Corinth, who were not the most, what shall we say, well-behaved Christians, he even says of them, he calls them saints, holy ones. Do you know the word saints, which is a word that we never seem to use, but you know that that word is used way more often in the New Testament of Christians than the word Christians, right? Paul uses it all the time to describe us. He calls us saints, holy ones.

Maybe that’s something we should start using of each other. How are you, my fellow saint, right? Because it’s a position that you receive through the cross of Christ. It’s not about how you’ve behaved today, good or bad.

It’s to do with the work of Christ and the position you now have in him. That’s wonderful, isn’t it? But it’s not just a position. It is something then that we need to then practice and live up to.

We need to look to our heavenly father and model ourselves as his children on his pattern of love and justice and purity. Now, I’m going to just finish with this. As I was searching through some old notes on holiness and just findings, bits and pieces, I came across a quote from a guy called Jerry Bridges.

(28:47 – 29:01)

And it was a quote years ago I read and I felt really challenged by it. And as I read it again, maybe 10 years later, I thought, well, I still feel challenged by that. And this is what he says in this book, In the Pursuit of Holiness.

(29:03 – 31:40)

He says, many Christians have what we might call a cultural holiness. They adapt to the character and behavior and pattern of those Christians around them. You could take out the word Christian there and say, you know, anyone around them.

It might be non-Christians who you sort of copy and mimic. They adapt to the character and behavior pattern of those Christians around them. As the culture around them is more or less holy, so these Christians are more or less holy.

But God has not called us to be like those around us. He has called us to be like himself. Holiness is nothing less than conformity with the character of God.

What is it they say? That bad company corrupts good character? God is the best kind of company. And if God is your company, then something of who he is is going to rub off on you. And so we don’t conform to the norms of the group, whether it’s the Christian group or whether it’s the non-Christian group.

We don’t set our standards by people. And neither do we shrug people off, because this is the other thing people do. They say, well, I’m not going to fit in with the crowd, but I’m going to just live my way.

I’m going to just be an individual. I’m going to be the best version of me. Well, that’s fine.

Be the best version of you, so long as you realize that the best version of you is when you become more like him. The best version of you is when you become more like him. That’s what all this holiness stuff in the Bible is about.

It’s about us becoming like the one who is so very different from us. So let’s now, as we come to the Lord’s table, let’s now draw near to God. Maybe you’ve come in tonight.

Maybe the last thing you actually feel like doing is drawing near to God. Maybe you feel as if you’re coming with no sense of confidence, really, that you can do this. But you’re not coming in yourself or in your own holiness.

(31:42 – 32:04)

You’re drawing near to God because in the presence of the holy, there’s a lamb. And so we come, we don’t come lightly, but neither do we come with crippling fear, because by his grace, God has made us into his holy people. So let’s come.