When King Uzziah entered the temple in 2 Chronicles 26, he did so out of pride (v. 16). He didn’t care that he was not consecrated to burn incense as the priests were—in his mind, he was righteous enough to approach God on his own terms. God punished Uzziah for his arrogance and self-righteousness by inflicting him with leprosy. He spent the rest of his life living in a leper’s house away from the power and fame that he had enjoyed due to God’s blessing.

In contrast, when Isaiah saw the Lord in all His glory, he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost” (Isaiah 6:5). He saw his own sin in the intense and terrible light of God’s holiness. He claimed no righteousness of his own and made no attempt to justify himself; rather, he pronounced woe on himself as a sinner who should be destroyed in the presence of the Lord of hosts. God honored this attitude by sending an angel to touch a coal to Isaiah’s lips, declaring atonement for his sin.

We cannot come to God on our own terms and with our own righteousness. To do so invites his wrath, and justly so. Who are we to stand before the holy Lord in our sinful state? We can only rely on the atoning work of Jesus Christ—never our own righteousness.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
–Augustus Toplady