Unclean Lips (Isaiah 6:5-7)
I was in college, and I was asked to speak at a Sunday afternoon service in an assisted living home. We sang, we took the Lord’s Supper, we prayed, some gave, and I preached. A woman responds to the invitation after my sermon. She had written out her confession; I will never forget what that index card said: “A brother in Christ kissed me on the lips and I took it the wrong way.” Personally, I wouldn’t take too kindly to a kiss on the lips from a brother in Christ, and I have no idea how she took it wrongly—I did not ask.
I’m confident that all of you have seen people respond to the invitation hymn for different things over the years. You may have known why that person was coming forward before he or she even stepped out of the aisle. Maybe you’ve seen a confession go wrong: people sharing too much information, people asking for prayers that Jesus might come into their hearts, or hurting others because the person who came forward shared things that did not need to be public. Maybe you have needed to respond to the invitation and ask the church for prayers; I honestly believe that most all of us have needed to do that at one time or another.
Had Isaiah been born in our time, Isaiah would have responded to the invitation hymn. He had sin he needed to confess; Isaiah, and his fellow countrymen, had sinned with their lips. Isaiah desired to be healed; therefore, he confessed his sin. From Isaiah we understand that “Confession is crucial for cleansing.” This morning, we want to think about how Isaiah demonstrates the need for confession.
Scripture (Isaiah 6:5-7)
Isaiah confesses his sin because he has seen God. The understanding of Isaiah’s day was that if you saw God, you would not live. When Moses wanted to see God, the Lord said, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). Isaiah knows that he has seen God, and he has no time to make things right; his life is ending any second.
God obviously did not kill Isaiah. We know from other Scriptures that Isaiah did not actually see the Lord but a representation of the Lord. That representation, however, was enough to frighten the prophet.
Seeing a representation of the Lord brought Isaiah to his knees. If Isaiah had never seen the Lord sitting in the temple, would the prophet have ever confessed his sin?
Seeing God has caused people to change. Thomas did not believe Jesus had been raised from the dead until he saw the marks in the Lord’s hands and side. Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:16); Saul’s life was drastically changed because he had seen the Risen Lord.
Notice that Isaiah is specific in his confession. He says, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
Isaiah was not vague. He didn’t say, “God, if I have sinned, please forgive me.” Isaiah “owned” his sin and confessed it before God.
A general or vague confession will not do any good. I’ve already mentioned some folks who are willing to share too much publicly; a vague statement may be appropriate in that situation. However, when we are before the throne of God, we need to be honest. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Js 5:16). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
Why make a big deal out of the fact that Isaiah confessed his specific sin to God? Notice how the seraph that touched Isaiah touched his lips and declared his sin had been taken away. The seraph did not touch Isaiah’s eyes because the prophet had been lusting. The seraph did not touch Isaiah’s hands because the prophet was violent. The seraph touched Isaiah’s lips, for the prophet had unclean lips.
God forgives us for the sins we confess. Numbers 5:5-7. The Lord says the person shall confess his sin. The confessor must make restitution and add an additional fifth to give to the one he had wronged. How could someone make restitution if he were not specific about wrongdoing? When the prodigal returned, he confessed his sin and was greeted lovingly by his father (Lk 15:17-24).
Isaiah found forgiveness, compassion, and healing through his confession.
How can you find forgiveness, compassion, and healing through your confession of sin?
One: You must see God.
Isaiah confesses his sin because he sees God.
The seraphim praise God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Is 6:3). The word “holy” means to be separated or set apart for a specific purpose. God is “holy,” for he is separated from sin. In Isaiah, the prophet repeatedly calls God “the Holy One of Israel.” “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5).
Before you can confess sin, you need to see that God is holy. You must see God as holy, for only a Holy God can set standards of what is right and what is wrong.
But, God has never determined what is right and what is wrong. It’s not as though God sat down with the angels and said, “Okay, let’s vote on what we believe is right and wrong.” Right and wrong come from the character of God. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16). Your holy conduct is determined by the holiness of God.
You need to see God. I think we all understand that we would see God in the pages of Scripture.
Look at God’s moral perfection and ask yourself, “What part of God’s holiness have I wronged?”
Think about the example of Isaiah. Isaiah confesses a sin of his lips. God’s lips are fully holy. He cannot lie (Heb 6:18). Jesus carefully watched his words (1 Pet 2:22-23). I realize those texts were written long after the time of Isaiah, but I want you to see that sin violates God’s holiness.
Over the next few days, I want you to spend time in Scripture exploring God’s holiness. Examine yourself to see what divine attributes of God’s holiness you have violated. Confess that sin to God; confess your sin to others as that’s appropriate.
Please understand what your sin does to the holy God. Sin breaks God’s heart! “The LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen 6:6). “They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit” (Is 63:10).
Understand that when you sin, God’s heart breaks. “When [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Lk 19:41). When you sin, the God who shall wipe away all tears weeps.
Two: You must specify your sin.
Sometimes people will respond to the invitation hymn or call me and they’ll say something like, “If I have sinned, I want God to forgive me.” I cannot understand that mindset; either you have or you haven’t.
You don’t need to give the preacher or the elders a play by play of everything you have done wrong, but I firmly believe we must be specific with God. Isaiah did not just admit that he might have sinned; he confessed that he had unclean lips (vv 5-7). Paul gets quite specific with his sin: 1 Timothy 1:12-14.
Why do you need to be specific?
God cleanses us according to our sin.
A seraph touched Isaiah’s lips and cleansed him of the sin of unclean lips. Simon the sorcerer needed cleansing for his one sin (Acts 8:18-24).
I am in absolutely no way implying that God does not forgive you very broadly. When you were baptized into Christ, I am confident that not a one of you could name every sin you had ever committed. I doubt that any of you could name every sin you’ve committed since you were baptized into Christ.
But, think about this: God has never in any way shape or form forgiven me from drunkenness; he has never forgiven me for the sin of murder. I have not committed those sins. He has cleansed my soul for losing my temper and for pride and for many other sins.
Sin loves darkness; confession brings it out into the open.
“This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (Jn 3:19). Confessing your sin to God will help you see your sin out in the open.
You must specify your sin before God. Pray and confess your sin. Get on your knees and beg God for forgiveness (and you know he’ll forgive). Go to God, give him your sin, and allow him to cleanse you of all sin.
Three: You must understand the gravity of your sin.
Isaiah believed he would die for his sin when he saw God. He understood the impact of his sin; he, therefore, confesses his sin.
Confession will remind you of the gravity of your sin. We like euphemisms in this country. We call adultery an “affair;” we talk about little white lies; when someone dies, we say that he or she has “passed away.” Euphemisms allow you to see your sin as “mistakes,” not as offenses to the Holy One of Israel. When you confess your sin to God, there’s no hiding what you’ve done behind a euphemism—you confess your sin.
Confession rips away the façade and exposes your sin. Confessing your sin to God helps you understand the gravity of your sin. Take off the mask that you wear in public, go to your closet, and confess your sins to God.
We must understand our sin, confess our sin to God, and move as far away as we can from that sin.
I doubt that we’d allow sin to fester in our lives if we fully understood the holiness of God. We would seek to do everything we can to keep from offending the holy Father who loves us. We’d understand the relationship we break with a holy God when we live in sin.
Do you have sin you need to confess?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.