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The Trauma of Holiness

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 28, 2023 12:01 am

The Trauma of Holiness

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 28, 2023 12:01 am

When we are confronted by the utter perfection of God's holiness, we finally see ourselves for who we really are. Today, R.C. Sproul reveals why an encounter with the holy is a traumatic experience to sinful people. The longtime host of Renewing Your Mind, Lee Webb, also signs off for the final time today, passing the microphone to our new host, Nathan W. Bingham.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Today on Renewing Your Mind... ... .... ...... And we are simply stewards of the rich legacy that R.C.

Sproul left. He set a standard of excellence, didn't he, in everything he did, whether it was his writing or his teaching or his preaching. Ultimately, as R.C. always said, this is God's ministry. And we're reminded from the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that our chief in is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I've also tried to remember that I'm a student too. Something like you, our listeners, who tune in each day, eager to know more about God and His character.

I became a Ligonier student 33 years ago. And even though I've been working here, I have to remember that I'm still a student in need of sound teaching so that I can grow as a Christian. So I think that's the counsel I would give you, Nathan. I will be praying for you, and I know that you're going to do a wonderful job, and you're going to enjoy this as much as I did. Thanks, Lee.

I really appreciate your counsel and your prayers. I'm looking forward to this new chapter. You know, yesterday I had the opportunity to share some of the special memories I have of working with R.C. If you weren't able to join us then, you can go to the archives section of and listen there. I mentioned the profound impact the Dr. Sproul series, The Holiness of God, had on me. And that's why I'd like to share one of my favorite messages from that series.

R.C. focuses on Isaiah chapter 6, and his message is titled, The Trauma of Holiness. Not too long ago, a woman from Oakland, California, spoke to me, and she was angry. She was very distressed.

And what she said was this. She said that she was angry with her pastor. And I said, well, why are you angry with your pastor? She said, I get the feeling that for some reason my minister every Sunday morning is doing everything that he can to conceal the true identity of God from the congregation.

She said, I come to church and I long to have an opportunity to worship, to have my soul experience reverence for God and adoration. But the God that I'm hearing about is a God has been defanged. He's been tamed.

He has become innocuous. And she said, I'm sure that the reason the minister does this is because he doesn't want to frighten people by explaining the true character of God. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I don't know how accurate that woman's complaint was, but I know we all have a tendency to soft pedal the biblical portrait of God, and there's a reason for that. The reason is this, that the holiness of God is traumatic to unholy people. And that becomes clear if we look at the rest of the text of Isaiah. We've seen already Isaiah's record of his vision of the holiness of God.

And what I'd like to look at now is what happened to Isaiah in response to what he saw. Before I do that, let me make this comment, that in the early chapters of the Institutes of the Christian Religion written by John Calvin, Calvin makes a statement that goes something like this, hence that dread and terror by which holy men of all trembled before God, as Scripture uniformly relates. What Calvin was saying is this, that there is a pattern to human responses to the presence of God in the Scripture.

And it seems that the more righteous the person is described, the more he trembles when he enters the immediate presence of God. There is nothing cavalier or casual about the response of Habakkuk when he meets the holy God. You remember Habakkuk's complaint where he saw all of the degradation and injustices that were sweeping across the landscape in his homeland, and he was so offended by this that he went up into his watchtower and he complained against God, and he said, God, you are so holy that you can't even behold iniquity, how can you stand by and let all of these things come to pass? And he said, I'm going to sit up here and I'm going to wait until God answers my question.

And you remember what happened? And when God appeared to Habakkuk, he said, my lips quivered, my belly trembled, and rottenness entered into my bone. What happened to Job when he waited for the voice of God?

And when God showed himself to Job, Job said, I abhor myself, I repent in dust and ashes, I have spoken once, I'll speak no more, I will take my hand and put it upon my mouth. As Calvin said, the uniform report of sacred Scripture is that every human being, whoever is exposed to the holiness of God, trembles in his presence. That was no less true of Isaiah. Now think of Isaiah. I haven't made a moral survey of 8th century Israel, but I can't imagine that there was any human being running around in the Jewish nation at that time who, humanly speaking, was more righteous than Isaiah.

Isaiah was about as righteous as human beings could be found in those days. And he has this glimpse of the holiness of God, and the first thing he does when he sees the holiness of God is that he cries out in terror, and the old King James Version records his words as saying this, woe is me, for I am undone. Now I know that more recent translations have tried to change the language there of Isaiah because nobody talks like that anymore.

Nobody says, woe is me. The words kind of antiquated, the expression is an archaism. It's like somebody saying, forsooth, or alas and alack. Nobody talks that way unless you have some Jewish friends. When things go wrong, they'll say, oy vey is mir, which is the Yiddish rendition of the same verbiage here, woe is me.

But for the most part, we don't hear people talk like that in our culture. And so translators in trying to communicate the Word of God in modern verbiage will do away with some of this archaic language. But when we do that, sadly, we're in danger of missing another one of those semi-hidden gems of biblical literature. There is a reason why Isaiah used the word woe. In the Old Testament, a prophet was a human being who was anointed by God to be a spokesman for God. The simple definition that distinguished the prophet from the priest in Israel was this, that it was the task of the priest to speak to God in behalf of the people. It was the task of the prophet to speak to the people in behalf of God. So that when the prophet uttered his message, he wouldn't preface his statement by saying, in my humble opinion, or it is my judgment that, or I think that perhaps this may be the case. That's not how they addressed the people.

You know what they did. When they gave their message, they prefaced their words by saying what, thus saith the Lord, because they understood that they were vessels of divine announcements. Now again, the literary form that was common to the prophet of Israel was the form that we call the oracle.

You've heard I'm sure of a Greek oracle, the oracle of Delphi, who would give these announcements about the future. Well, among the Jews, the oracular literary device, the oracle was of two types. There were oracles of will and oracles of woe. Now that means simply this, that there were announcements that came from God that were good news, and there are announcements that came from God that were bad news. An oracle of will or an oracle of prosperity used a word that was important to this oracle among the Jews to introduce the good news, and it was the word blessed.

Jesus obviously uses the form of the oracle self-consciously as a prophet when He gives the Sermon on the Mount. The people of His day would have recognized the significance of His giving this list of sayings that He would say, blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed are the pure in heart and so on.

Blessed are the peacemakers. He was pronouncing the oracle of God's will upon the people, the divine blessing, the divine benediction to those who did these certain things. But the flip side of the oracle of will was the oracle of woe, which was a grim and terrifying announcement of God's judgment. Hear the prophet Amos when he announces the judgment of God upon the nations and upon the cities, for three transgressions and four Damascus, woe unto you. Jesus, when He gave His scathing denunciation of the Pharisees, prefaced His words of judgment using the Old Testament prophetic oracle by saying, woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. You cross land and sea to make one convert, and once you've made Him, you make Him twice the child of hell than you are yourselves. I mentioned in our first session how rare it is in all of Scripture for anything to be raised to the repetitive level of the superlative, and I said the only attribute of God that's ever repeated to the third degree is the attribute of holiness, holy, holy, holy.

But it's not the only thing that is repeated to the third degree. Jeremiah, the prophet, when he went and gave the judgment of God before the temple of the Jews, he said to them, you people come here and you say this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord. Jeremiah was saying, in effect, your hypocrisy is to the nth degree. You trust in lying words, words that cannot profit, and the darkest hour of this planet is foretold to us in the apocalypse of the New Testament where we are told that in that last hour the bowls of divine wrath will be poured out upon this planet, and we hear of this heavenly figure flying across the darkened sky announcing the final judgment of God with the repetition of one word singing what, woe, woe, woe.

You don't want to be around when that bird starts to see. But you see what happens here in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, that one who is called of God and set apart, whose words, the very words of God are placed in his mouth, the first oracle that he pronounces is an oracle of doom upon himself. Woe is me. As soon as Isaiah sees the unveiled holiness of God, for the first time in Isaiah's life, he understands who God is. And the very second that Isaiah understood who God was, for the first time in his life, he understood who Isaiah was.

And what came out of his mouth was something akin to a primordial scream where he curses himself. Woe is me, for I am undone. I know the more modern translations use, for I am ruined.

But I like this old one, undone, for this reason. If we look at what's happening here through the glasses of modern psychoanalysis, we could describe this experience that Isaiah relates as an experience of psychological disintegration. That is disintegration. We use words to describe a person who is healthy. We say that that person is whole.

He has everything together. And when we see somebody who is losing it, we say what? He's falling apart. Isn't it interesting that a synonym that we use for virtue in our language is the word integrity?

That is that we have everything about our lives meshed together in a coherent and a consistent way. Now ladies and gentlemen, here is the man who possesses the most integrity of the Jewish people who comes and gets one glimpse of the holiness of God, and he immediately suffers disintegration. He comes apart. That's what happens to people who catch a glimpse of the character of God. Because do you see that we spend our entire lives veiling ourselves from the true character of God. Because our natural bent, our natural inclination, beloved, is to hide ourselves from Him.

Because we know instinctively that as soon as the holy appears, it exposes and reveals anything and anyone who is not holy by virtue of that standard. We have a justification for every sin that we commit. We are masters of self-deceit. Calvin makes this statement.

He said, as long as our gaze is fixed on the ground, we're safe. We flatter ourselves. We address ourselves as demigods, slightly lower than eternal deities. We do what the Apostle Paul warned us not to do when he said, those who judge themselves by themselves and judge themselves among themselves are not wise. Let me tell you something about human nature.

We could go out into the streets of America and ask this question to everyone on the street, and I can't believe how many people would answer it the same way. If I said to people, are you perfect, I'd be willing to bet that 99 out of the 100 people that we ask that question, no matter what their background is, would say, no, I'm not perfect. The one axiom that all Americans will vote for is that nobody's perfect. Erare humanem est, to her is human. Nobody's perfect.

But that doesn't seem to bother us at all. There's not one person in the thousand who will deny that they're not perfect. That's a double negative.

Let me put it the other way. There's not one person in the thousand who will claim to be perfect, and beloved, there's not one person in the thousand who understands the seriousness of not being perfect, because the standard by which we will be judged ultimately is not a curve, but it will be the standard of God's perfection. I hear this, everybody's entitled to one mistake. It says who? Where did God ever say, you can all have one mistake? One free sin, one free act of treason against my authority, one free insult to my integrity. He never said that, did He?

But even if He did, how long ago did you use yours up? Everybody's entitled to one mistake. I hope we get more than one. One mistake is second, is more like it. But you see, we're comfortable with our imperfection. We judge ourselves by each other, no matter how ashamed I may be of the weaknesses in my life, and sometimes when I look inside myself, I make myself sick. Don't you feel like that? Do you ever disgust yourself, say, how could I do that?

I can't believe that I'm that selfish, or I can't believe that I'm that covetous or lustful or whatever it is. But we are quick to excuse ourselves, because we look around and we can always find somebody who's more depraved than we are, at least on this earth. So we can be like the public or the Pharisee that Jesus talked about that went up to the temple to pray and said, oh God, I thank you that I'm not like that miserable guy over there.

And so we find a way to excuse ourselves and to flatter ourselves until we see the standard. And when that happens, we are undone, as Isaiah was undone. When he saw pure holiness, he understood what it was that he wasn't. He couldn't stand it, and he's on his face, and he's screaming out in pain, and he's saying, woe is me, for I am undone, 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. I wonder why he said what he said. When he cries out now in his terror, he said, I'm undone because I have a dirty mouth.

Wonder why it went to his mouth. If you read the teaching of Jesus, one of the things that comes through his teaching again and again is a lesson that almost no one in the 20th century believes anymore. If Jesus of Nazareth taught anything, he taught repeatedly that someday every human being would be called before the tribunal of God, that every one of us will have to give an account before the holy creator of heaven and earth. And Jesus says that on that day, every idle word that we have ever spoken will be brought into the judgment, that everything that we've ever done, everything that we've ever said, every promise we've ever made and broken, every blasphemous statement that's come from our mouth, every slanderous word that we've made towards our neighbor will be brought up on the table. Jesus said it's not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles a man, it's what comes out. God has given us our mouths as vehicles to praise Him, to express His truth, and instead we've used our mouths to lie, to hurt other people, to blaspheme God.

We have dirty mouths. When Isaiah saw the holiness of God, his hand went instinctively to his mouth as he cried out this curse upon himself. Now ladies and gentlemen, what did God do?

Did God look down from the throne and see His servant writhing in the dust and all of this remorse and repentance like some medieval monk in a monastery involved in self-flagellation and say, come, come, come, come, come now Isaiah, you're taking yourself far too seriously. Don't have such a morbid preoccupation with your own guilt. You're going to give a lifetime of study for the likes of Sigmund Freud carrying on like this. Don't be so neurotic. You've got a guilt hang-up. I mean, you must have been reading Jonathan Edwards or anticipating Queen Victoria. That's not what he did.

Nor did God look at His servant writhing in the dirt and say to him, suffer. You miserable creep. You deserve to be undone and ruined. Go ahead. Let the curse fall upon yourself. I've had it with the likes of you, Isaiah.

I'll catch you later. That's not what he did. Tell you something else he didn't do, ladies and gentlemen. God didn't say a word to Isaiah about cheap grace. God didn't say, look Isaiah, all I want you to do is sign your name on a membership card or raise your hand and you can come into My kingdom.

No. God saw His servant in pain and He nodded to one of the seraphim and the seraph went over to the altar where the white hot coals were burning there in the holy place and the coals were so hot that even the angel's flesh couldn't come in contact with them. He had to use tongs and with these tongs, he took one of these white hot coals and he flew over to Isaiah and we read in the text that he placed this hot coal on his lips. You know how sensitive the human lips are?

It's with our lips that we express one of the most intimate forms of tactile communication, the kiss. The nerve endings of the lips are hypersensitive and yet this man has the experience of having a hot coal placed right on his lips. You know that what happened is the instant that coal touched his lips, there was a huge blister formed on him. You can hear his flesh sizzling.

Why? Because God was being cruel and unusual in His punishment of Isaiah, no. The coal was applied to cauterize his lips, to purify him, to heal them, to prepare them for the message that he was to give.

Listen to what it says. One of the seraph flew to me with a live coal in his hand which he had taken with tongs from the altar and with it he touched my mouth and he said, see this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. I'm a Protestant by conviction, but one of the things that I miss from the Roman Catholic tradition is the confessional.

Yes, the confessional was at the heart of the Protestant controversy, but only one element of it and we have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. How I long to be able to go someplace to someone that I can see and hear and experience their real presence and say, Father, I have sinned. This is what I have done and list my transgressions, get them off my chest, and then be able to get on my knees and hear somebody say to me in the name of Jesus Christ, te absolvo.

I absolve you. Your sins are forgiven. How would you like to hear Christ come in this room right now and walk to where you are privately and say to you, I know about every one of your sins, but right now I want to tell you that every sin that you've ever committed in your life is forgiven. Your guilt is taken away, all of it. You never again have to worry about the sins that you have committed against God. I am forgiving you and cleansing you this moment and forever. What would you give to hear Jesus say that to you? That's what God said to Isaiah.

It's God, Isaiah. All of your guilt. You don't have to speak the curse any longer.

I'm taking it away. Your sins are forgiven. They are atoned for. And now as Isaiah is trying to deal with that, God speaks once more and He said, whom shall I send and who shall go for us? The first thing that Isaiah says after cursing himself is what?

Here am I, send me. Notice he didn't say, here I am. That would be telling God his geographical location. No, he said, God, here am I.

He could hardly say it through these lips. Ladies and gentlemen, the price of repentance is very, very painful. True repentance is honest before God. And to come into the presence of a holy God is a painful thing. But when we come humbly as Isaiah did, when we come on our face, God is ready to forgive, to cleanse, and to send the only justification for any missionary's mission, for any preacher's preaching is that that person has experienced the forgiveness of God. Let's pray. Father, we also have dirty mouths, and we could not possibly survive in your presence were it not for the atonement that you have made for us in Christ. We pray that we might know your forgiveness now and forevermore, that we might say to you, here am I, send me.

Amen. That is R.C. Sproul from his classic series, The Holiness of God, and a message titled, The Trauma of Holiness. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Tuesday.

I'm Lee Webb, and as I mentioned earlier, R.C. 's teaching on God's holiness had a profound impact on my understanding of who God is and who I am. If you've never contacted us before, I'd like for you to have a free hardcover copy of Dr. Sproul's book, The Holiness of God. He paints an awe-inspiring vision of God that encourages every one of us as Christians to become holy, just as God is holy.

To make your request, you can call us at 800-435-4343, or you can go online to As we close, I'd like to again express how thankful I am for the privilege of serving as the host of Renewing Your Mind. I express my gratitude many times to Dr. Sproul for the favor that he and Vesta extended to me ten years ago, and that goes for our president and CEO, Chris Larson, as well.

I have served under many leaders during my career, but none with the gifts, skill, and wisdom that Chris possesses. I'm grateful for all of my colleagues here at Ligonier Ministries. They demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the Lord and to the work that we're doing here at Ligonier every day. And I'm especially grateful for the Renewing Your Mind team that I've had the privilege of working with over the years. This is a collaborative effort, and I could not have done this without their tireless efforts.

That brings me to you, our listeners. I've had the opportunity to meet and visit with many of you over the years, and I want you to know that your encouragement has been wind in my sails, so thank you. Providentially, my wife Donna and I are celebrating our 42nd wedding anniversary today.

Her love and support at every stop along the way in my career has been immeasurable, and I could not be more grateful for her. And finally, I'm thankful to God. I will never be able to express enough gratitude for His kindness in bringing me to Ligonier, and that's why I'd like to close with His word.

As you know, the name of this program is drawn from Romans 12.2—"Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." Verses 1 and 2 in that chapter serve as a turning point in Paul's magnum opus. In the previous chapters, he's provided us with a detailed explanation and defense of the gospel, and he concludes that section of his letter in chapter 11 with a hymn of praise, if you will. He can't contain his joy. He moves from theology to doxology.

So I can't think of a better way to say goodbye than by reading that passage, because it expresses my joy and gratitude. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? For from Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-28 07:12:57 / 2023-02-28 07:25:09 / 12

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