Dealing with sin without becoming a legalist

by Sep 14, 2010

On Sunday morning we explored the sin offering in Leviticus 4, and it looks like there were more than a few raw nerves exposed. In the past few days I’ve heard from many people who know they are sinners, but still aren’t quite sure what to do about it.

My favorite passage of Scripture holds some clues. Isaiah 6:1-8 tells the story of a time when Isaiah encountered God in a powerful new way while he was worshiping in the temple in Jerusalem:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Isaiah was already a faithful prophet being used by God (he already preached five chapters worth of material!), but he was still struck by three fresh revelations:

  1. The greatness of God’s glory. He saw God’s authority as he sat on his throne. He saw God’s sovereignty, high and lifted up above everything else. He saw God’s majesty in the robe that filled the temple. He saw God’s fearfulness through the reaction of the angels, and he heard about God’s holiness through the song they sang. That led to his awareness of:
  2. The greatness of his sin. The light of God’s glory revealed the sin in his life that had remained hidden in the dark. He was horrified at the sight, saying, “Woe is me!” (in other words, “I might as well die!”). He cried out about his unclean lips, since what comes out of your lips reflects what’s inside your heart. But God responded by revealing:
  3. The greatness of God’s grace. God reminded Isaiah of his atonement. By touching the burning coal to his lips (probably more than a little painful!), God reminded Isaiah that only his grace could bridge his holiness and our sinfulness.

Isaiah’s experience forms a model for daily life as a follower of Jesus. Tomorrow we’ll see what that looks like.