A Man of Unclean Lips

“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.”” (Isaiah 6:5–7, ESV)  

The Prophet Isaiah — this amazing man of God — knew the score. He was a man of unclean lips, a sinner in the presence of a Holy God! He had passed the first test. Isaiah admitted his personal unworthiness to be in the presence of the Lord, he admitted to having unclean lips, and he admitted to dwelling with a similar people. Isaiah was, to use his own word, undone.

Among the myriad lessons here, take particular note that our own admission of unworthiness is the first step toward service to God, but to the unsaved, it is the first step toward salvation. Either way, being undone is the best thing to be in God’s presence. Once a person sees himself as unworthy of anything but destruction, then God may perform his work, whether it be for service or for salvation.

During a recruit's initial military training, it is axiomatic that he should first be broken, a necessary step before being rebuilt to new specifications. God wants soldiers, too, and no one may serve God who has not yet found the end of himself. So, any pride or arrogance must be put away before one begins as God’s man in any enterprise. The attitude for Godly service is summed up in Isaiah’s experience. We must look within and realize, I am not worthy, I am unclean, I should die. Then, after God takes away the weight of iniquity, a servant may say as did Isaiah in verse eight, “Here am I; send me.”

I find it interesting that even though there are only two categories of humanity, the saved and the unsaved, all persons — regardless of category — must approach God the same way, although for differing purposes. The unsaved seek eternal life, whereas the saved (who already have eternal life) seek service. Since neither type of person has intrinsic worth, God himself must address their iniquities. In Isaiah’s time having a seraph place a coal from the altar upon the lips would have been highly significant. His people lived under the sacrificial system, and they were no strangers to the altar and its symbols. But on this day, although Isaiah found himself chosen by God Himself, he still needed a cleansing.

We present-day believers in Jesus Christ no longer need to visit the altar for salvific cleansing because Jesus Christ has made a permanent atonement for our sins with his blood on the cross. We do, however, have to visit the altar for daily cleansing, to have our lips, our hearts, our feet... everything cleansed for the honor of service.

Now, lest we confound the two cleansings, let me be clear. Born-again believers in Jesus Christ are saved once, and only once, forever. That means that salvation is permanent, irreversible, and non-losable! We need to perform no other actions  no baptism, no sacrifice, no particularly holy acts — to maintain or to bolster-up our salvation. And just as Jesus accomplished all of this for us, so he maintains all of this for us. The Lord himself protects our right to eternity. That, however, has to do with salvation. Service is different.

Serving God is a privilege, and as such, we would be fools to just walk out onto the playing field unclean. Even though we Christians are saved and will spend eternity with God, we must still seek some cleansing. Remember when Jesus washed the disciple's feet? He taught that persons who were clean in the main still needed the daily soils removed from their feet — that place where they contacted the world. In like manner, we Christians should seek water for our feet before going out to fight that holy war. And, if God is reaching out to you in that special way, a coal for the lips is always in order.

For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at ep@mainsailministries.org.