We hear a lot about our culture improving the self-esteem of Americans. Websites, magazines, books, songs, etc are devoted to empower the individual, to improve their view of themselves, because, let’s face it, we all struggle with insecurity. That nagging doubt or fear of not being accepted, affirmed, or acknowledged. We are taught that we need to have our own individual needs met.

But sociologists have reacted with statements about America becoming more and more self-absorbed. The Bible confirms this diagnosis of the human’s heart that not only is the natural bent of the heart evil; it is also naturally bent toward loving ourselves (Gen 8:21; Jer 17:9, Lev 19:18).  The question is how can we become less absorbed with our own individual needs? The answer is to be confronted with God.

Confronted with a Holy God

The book of Isaiah recounts such a confrontation.  Isaiah 6:1-4 says,

1In 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. 2Above 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. 3And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”

What Isaiah sees is the glory of the Lord. John Piper observes, “The glory of the Lord is the manifestation of His holiness”.[1] The fundamental idea of the Hebrew word for “glory” is “weight” or “heaviness”.[2] God’s importance, authority, and value, is wrapped up in this word. Basically it means that because of His glory, compared to anything else, nothing but God matters. When confronted with God everything in and around your life changes.

We can make some observations about God from these verses. Verse one begins, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…” God is alive and ruling. We see the death of Uzziah contrasted with the Lord sitting on the throne. Through every change in human government, kings, and dictators, God’s reign is constant and never ending. Notice that He is also describe as “sitting upon a throne”. He is not frantically running around, no qualms have come upon Him; the Lord is in authoritative control and peace. What position describes this throne? The passage says it is “high and lifted up”. No other authority comes close to the prominence of His authority- it is superior. In this vision of God we see that His glory is ultimate.

Correcting Our False Ideas

This passage corrects any false notions we have about the God of the Bible. He cannot be defined by human or earthly categories; He is not merely the assistant to our lives. If God was only our assistant than He would be a god we shape for ourselves, who could be adapted to our existing goals and beliefs. But when we come before the God of the Bible, our lives are changed and rearranged. God becomes our agenda, our goal, and our itinerary.

How do we know if we are living in light of the God of the Bible? When we respond as Isaiah did. Isaiah 6:2-5 says,

2Above 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. 3And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

 4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And 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!”

Isaiah heard the Seraphim, angelic creatures who are sinless, cry to each other “Holy, Holy, Holy”.  The Seraphim’s posture also communicates the magnitude of God’s holiness. They covered their face and feet. They triple the word “holy” because they are emphasizing the magnitude of His holiness. It is beyond any classification of holiness we can imagine. He isn’t just “holy”; God is “holy, holy, holy”.

Should the response of Isaiah be any surprise then? God has just shown Himself. When confronted with the perfect holiness of God his response is, “Woe is me, for I am lost: for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” He wishes a curse on himself!

A Case of Low Self-Esteem

Today, many would say that Isaiah is struggling with a low self-esteem issue. We are supposed to feel good all the time, right? After all, Isaiah knew the Lord and he was involved in ministry. Why is he so down on himself? We might want to comfort him, “There, there, Isaiah, remember, you are a great orator! God has used your extraordinary skill in proclaiming His judgment on the people of Israel! Your lips recount the visions God has given you. Feel Special!” But this is not low self-esteem; God doesn’t correct Isaiah’s confession. Isaiah has been bombarded by the holiness of God; he has heard it called out by creatures, though sinless, not holy enough to look upon God. He realizes he is the problem, and though he has spent the first five chapters casting the Lord’s judgment on others, he realizes he is just one of them. From Isaiah’s response, we see that when you view yourself as a sinner you have begun to view God accurately.

6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

 8And 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 6:6-8

 Notice, it is at the moment Isaiah confesses the reality of his sin, where he wishes misery on himself, that God takes away his guilt and atones for his sin.

The Reality of Sin

Charles Simeon (1759-1836), an evangelical clergyman, said, “There are but two objects that I have ever desired for these forty years to behold; the one is my own vileness; and the other is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: and I have always thought that they should be viewed together.” Simeon illustrated this truth through a picture of a great ship. The ballast of the ship is in the very bottom, it takes in a lot of water that serves to counterbalance the ship and keep it from capsizing. “I have continually had such a sense of my sinfulness as would sink me into utter despair, if I had not an assured view of the sufficiency and willingness of Christ to save me to the uttermost. At the same time I had such a sense of my acceptance though Christ as would overset my little bark, if I had not ballast at the bottom sufficient to sink a vessel. [3]

We break so easily, our relationships break easily, and we give up to easily.[4] We “emotionally capsize” because we have been taught that the goal is to feel good all the time. Understanding our own unworthiness allows us to plot a steady course of both humility and adoration.  When reflecting on Simeon’s statement, John Piper observes, “If Simeon is right, vast portions of contemporary Christianity are wrong. And I can’t help wondering whether one of the reasons we are emotionally capsized so easily today – so vulnerable to winds of criticism or opposition – is that in the name of forgiveness and grace, we have thrown the ballast overboard.”[5]

Later in the book of John we find out Isaiah’s vision was the glory of Christ (John 12:37-41). It was Christ who promised atonement for Isaiah’s sins. Christ accomplished atonement for Isaiah’s sins and for the sins of the world. Humanity is living in the same mucky existence as in Isaiah’s day. And we are just part of the sinful lot. But that is what makes the love of Christ so astounding! Though we are unlovable in every nook and cranny of our being, God showed His grace toward us. His grace makes us valuable and secure.

In Humility We Have Boldness

It is in the posture of humility that Isaiah displays boldness in serving the Lord. Isaiah 6:8 says, “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.’” This is the response to his salvation. This isn’t a statement of pride, “I am qualified for my next mission. Send me.” but is a humble plea,  “please Lord, use me. Send me.” The holiness of God corrects our self-absorptions and false self-esteem. Through His grace we find our value, it is in the place of humility that we see the beauty of God’s love. We find Isaiah eager to service the Lord in response to the grace and atonement He has undeservedly received from a holy God.

Self-esteem, even the Christianized kind can never cure our insecurities. Only when we exalt God and cast down the idolatry of self-esteem can we avoid the emotional black hole of carnal security. In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), Pastor Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, candidly describes his struggle to escape the self-esteem trap: “When my own personal grasp of the gospel was very weak, my self-view swung wildly between two poles. When I was performing up to my standards – in academic work, professional achievement, or relationships – I felt confident but not humble. I was likely to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. When I was not living up to standards, I felt humble but not confident, a failure. I discovered, however, that the gospel contained the resources to build a unique identity. In Christ I could know I was accepted by grace not only despite my flaws, but because I was willing to admit them. The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling.” [6]


[1] Piper, John. “Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord Of Hosts – Desiring God.” Home – Desiring God. 1 Jan. 1984. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/holy-holy-holy-is-the-lord-of-hosts>.

[2] Isaiah 6:1-13 | NET Bible Online. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <http://net.bible.org/>.

[3] Piper, John. “Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering Meditations on the Life of Charles Simeon 1989 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors – Desiring God.” Home – Desiring God. 15 Apr. 1989. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Keller, Timothy J. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton, 2008. Print. 180-181