For thus says the high and exalted One, Who lives forever, Whose name is Holy,
“I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly, And to revive the heart of the contrite”. Isaiah 57:15
It almost seems like a contradiction – God dwells in a high and holy place, yet He also dwells with the contrite and lowly. It is really a startling contrast, but we get close to God by realizing how far we are from Him! When we gaze upon God and realize how desperately we fall short of His glory and perfection, it is then that God comes near and revives our hearts.
Isaiah 6 contains the famous vision that Isaiah had of God in the temple. The scene is one of glorious majesty! This encounter with God greatly humbled Isaiah. His response was, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
It is interesting to note that Isaiah, as God’s prophet, was essentially God’s “lips” declaring God’s Words to the people, yet he proclaims himself as having unclean lips. The closer one gets to a physical light, the brighter it shines and the more it reveals. Likewise, when seeing himself next to God’s majesty, Isaiah’s sinfulness was all the more evident to himself.
This can be seen elsewhere in the Scriptures. Encounters with God greatly humbled people…they fell down, bemoaned their sinfulness, etc. For example, we can also observe this response in the life of Job. Job was a righteous man, yet endured terrible trials. Towards the end of his suffering, after Job had encountered God, his response was “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” and “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 40:4, 42:6)
New Testament examples can be seen as well. When Peter saw Christ perform a miracle in Luke 5, his response was that “…he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Or the apostle Paul, when writing towards the end of his life, referred to himself (in the present tense) as the worst of sinners – see I Timothy 1:15. (I know Paul did have a shady past where he hunted down Christians, but the Lord had transformed his life. Yet, in this passage he refers to himself not as sinful in the past tense, but in the present tense.) Or when the apostle John had his vision of Christ on Patmos, his response was “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.” (Revelation 1:17)
Note that all these individuals – Isaiah, Job, Peter, Paul, John – were all “good” men in the service of God. It is not as though God pulled a unrepentant thug out of prison guilty of horrific crimes, and gave this thug a vision of Himself, and the thug then bemoaned his sinfulness. We’d expect this! He’s a vicious thug after all. But these were “good” men serving the Lord when they acknowledged their sinfullness.
Compared to God – no one is good. Having a true encounter with the Lord God should humble us. Even as we grow in our faith, the more we should recognize our sinfulness. You might be thinking “what?!” … Does this mean we are just sinning all the time and failing to progress in the spiritual life? No! But the more we become like Christ, the more sensitive we should become to the sins that still remain in our life. Like getting closer to a bright light, the closer we get to the light, the brighter it is and the more it reveals about us. As we mature in the faith, our sins should become more painful and obvious to ourselves. Call it a paradox if you will. The more we put away sin, the more we notice sinful tendencies that still need to be put away.
Maybe this sounds hopeless to you? Or discouraging? Or pessimistic? I think we have all fallen victim to the modern day “I’m okay, you’re okay” mentality. We want to think the best about ourselves. We want to think positive. But…this just plays right into the tendency of our sinful nature to be prideful and self-deceived. There is no hope there! Dozens of Bible verses warn about the dangers of pride.
Remember Isaiah. After Isaiah said “woe is me”, the seraphim in the vision touched his lips with a coal from the alter and proclaimed that his sin was forgiven. Then, for the first time in the vision, God spoke to Isaiah! For such a contrite heart, there was immediate mercy. Confession and humility bring us closer to the Lord. Self-righteousness and arrogance keep God at a distance. When we realize our humble place before the mighty and majestic God…We have opened the door for the Lord to minister to us. THIS is a place of hope and revival! We realize it is all about God…and not about us.
Perhaps this Tim Keller quote would be a good way to wrap up this post:
“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”
Perhaps you are thinking…But what about the Bible verses that say I am a saint, a new creation, and a victor?! Doesn’t that conflict with all this talk of humility and always being aware of my sinfulness? That will be another post in this series…
Next post: Quote interlude