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.—Isaiah 6:1
One of the questions pastors ask themselves all the time is why some people are passionate about their faith and others are passive. Why are some people moved to tears by the Gospel, while other people are stifling a yawn? Why do some people worship and serve and give and encourage others and serve some more, and do it all with joy, while some people struggle to make spiritual things a priority? What makes the difference?
The full answer is probably too complex to unravel. Only God knows for sure. But I believe one major factor is a person’s view of God. If the picture of God we have in our minds is vague and uninspiring, or if we picture Him as angry or distant or too busy or legalistic, we won’t be all that motivated to give Him our best. But if we picture God as majestic, mighty, holy, loving, wise, kind, good, amazing, and glorious, we’ll be more likely to serve, worship, and pursue Him with everything we have.
In his book The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer says “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He says that if we could look into someone’s mind and see what they picture when they think about God, we could predict what their spiritual future will look like, because people will not rise above what they believe about God. A low view of God will lead to a weak, half-hearted spiritual life. A high view of God will lead us to pursue Him with passion. When he says this, he’s not talking about the things we say about God in church. We all know the Sunday School answers, the right things to say. The question isn’t how much doctrine we know, but what we truly believe deep in our hearts, sometimes without even realizing it.
What is your picture of God? A grumpy old man on a throne? A traffic cop writing tickets for infractions of the law? An absent father? A smiling grandfather who pats everyone on the head and winks when they’re naughty? Is God loving or angry? Strong or weak? Holy or not? Whatever you imagine Him to be, you can be sure it has affected your past choices and your current spiritual state. That’s why it’s so important to know what the Bible says, and to be a part of a church that teaches it clearly and without an agenda that would slant their view. Unfortunately, too many people grow up in churches that leave them with a picture of a legalistic God who is impossible to please, and it takes them years to overcome the false image in their minds.
In Isaiah chapter 6, the prophet Isaiah describes a vision he was given of God in His throne room. That vision set Isaiah’s life on a path of wholehearted service to God. Not all of us are privileged to receive a vision like Isaiah did, but we can benefit from what God revealed to him and apply it to our own pursuit of the truth about God. So starting with verse 1 (see above), we can see that:
The God Isaiah saw is high and exalted. He is seated on a throne. This is a God who is clearly above us, who rules over us. If we don’t believe that God is over us, bigger than us, beyond us, we probably won’t be all that moved to serve Him. God is mighty. He is all-powerful and unfathomable. He is our friend, but He is not our buddy. He is not our peer. He speaks and the world is changed. He commands and we obey. When someone treats spiritual things lightly, it’s likely that their God is too small, and the reality is they don’t respect Him all that much.
Then the passage goes on:
Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two 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 temple was filled with smoke.—Isaiah 6:2-4
These verses add to the picture. Not only is God great and mighty, high and exalted, but the God Isaiah saw is holy. He is perfect. He is without sin and without flaw. He is transcendent, meaning He is not a part of the created universe; He created it and exists independently from it. His holiness is so great that there are creatures whose sole purpose is to declare it, and their declaration shakes heaven’s throne room. God is definitely not a grumpy old man on a throne, or even a kindly grandfather. He is something more. Something set apart. Something unlike anything in our experience.
“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.”—Isaiah 6:5
In the next verse we see Isaiah’s response to this vision of a holy, majestic, transcendent God. And his response is despair. He knows how deeply unworthy He is to look upon this God. Seeing the Holy God makes Isaiah deeply aware of his own sinfulness. When someone is casual or flippant about the sin in their lives, you can bet that the picture of God in their minds is something less than the Holy God of the Bible. And this is a bigger problem than we realize, because it means we will not appreciate the Cross of Jesus Christ. If we were as good as we tell ourselves we are, Christ’s sacrifice would not have been necessary. When people hear the Gospel, the good news about the cross, and respond with repentance and faith, it’s because they have a clear picture of God as holy, and of themselves as sinners in need of redemption.
And that leads us to verses 6 and 7:
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 and your sin atoned for.”—Isaiah 6:6,7
God doesn’t leave Isaiah in his hopeless state. The God of Isaiah’s vision is a gracious God, who finds a way to atone for sin so we are not cut off from Him. He doesn’t make our sin magically disappear with a word; somehow it must be removed. In Isaiah’s vision a burning coal purges away his impurities. There is a painful price to be paid. When someone is a wholehearted worshiper, it’s because they understand their need for atonement, and they’re deeply grateful that God has made a way for it to happen.
And finally, Isaiah’s vision of a God who is both holy and gracious moves Him to offer His life in service. Look at verse 8:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”—Isaiah 6:8
Seeing God’s holiness and his own sinfulness causes Isaiah to despair, and he cries “Woe is me!” But experiencing God’s grace and His cleansing power causes Isaiah to love God wholeheartedly, and he says “Send me!” Clearly he no longer thinks of himself as unworthy! He believes that the work of atonement was so complete that it not only cleansed him of sin but qualified him for ministry. I encounter too many people who know all the Sunday school answers about what the Cross accomplished, but their real beliefs come out when they say things like “I hope God accepts me into heaven” or “I could never be used in ministry with a past like mine.” When someone has a right picture of the God of the Bible, who is completely holy but is able to make us completely holy, they know that they are unconditionally loved, and they joyfully offer their lives in a loving response.
Is a false picture of God holding you back from all that He intends for you? This week, spend some time prayerfully reading Isaiah chapter 6, and see what God says to you. Ask Him to show you what He is really like, and how He sees you. May He give you a vision of Himself that sets you free to serve and worship Him with a whole heart.