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Our Urgent Need: A New Self Awareness

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Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist, observed, “A diffuse and vague guilt feeling kills the personality, whereas the conviction of sin gives life to it.”
1 Isaiah begins with life-giving conviction of sin. It’s our first step back to God.
Good news for modern man; TEV 1966
Isaiah: Good news for bad people
Isaiah: Good news for bad people
A professor at Boston College . . . once asked members of his philosophy class to write an anonymous essay about a personal struggle over right and wrong, good and evil. Most of the students, however, were unable to complete the assignment. “Why?” he asked. “Well,” they said — and apparently this was said without irony — “we haven’t done anything wrong.” We can see a lot of self-esteem here, but little self-awareness.2
We may feel good about ourselves. But what if God thinks we’ve done wrong, a lot of wrong, and not much right? What if he wants to talk to us about it because he also has a remedy for us? What if he can see that our self-protection is really self-imprisonment? God lovingly confronts us with truths embarrassing enough to save us.
In Isaiah chapter 1, God is telling us the truth about ourselves. Let’s not be fooled by our polished appearances and our stylish theories of the darling self. They’ll be the death of us. The unflattering portrait of is God’s way of disturbing us until we start asking the courageous Godward questions that can breathe life back into us.
The first chapter of Isaiah shows us the “before” picture — what we are, left to ourselves. Later prophecies in the book piece together the “after” picture — what God promises to make of everyone he saves. By the end of the book, what God achieves is not simply a patched-up version of you and me. His grace will create new heavens and a new earth (65:17; 66:22). opens the way to our God-glorification by deconstructing our self-glorification.
Structure of Isaiah 1
1. Three views of God’s uncomprehending people (1:2-26)
A The tragedy of their humiliation: “Ah, sinful nation” (1:2-9)
B The hypocrisy of their worship: “Bring no more vain offerings” (1:10-20)
C The corruption of their character: “Everyone loves a bribe” (1:21-26)
2. The alternatives confronting God’s people (1:27-31)
What is conviction of sin? It is not an oppressive spirit of uncertainty or paralyzing guilt feelings. Conviction of sin is the lance of the divine Surgeon piercing the infected soul, releasing the pressure, letting the infection pour out. Conviction of sin is a health-giving injury. Conviction of sin is the Holy Spirit being kind to us by confronting us with the light we don’t want to see and the truth we’re afraid to admit and the guilt we prefer to ignore. Conviction of sin is the severe love of God overruling our compulsive dishonesty, our willful blindness, our favorite excuses. Conviction of sin is the violent sweetness of God opposing the sins lying comfortably undisturbed in our lives. Conviction of sin is the merciful God declaring war on the false peace we settle for. Conviction of sin is our escape from malaise to joy, from attending church to worship, from faking it to authenticity. Conviction of sin, with the forgiveness of Jesus pouring over our wounds, is life.
According to John Calvin, we need to know two things to make meaningful contact with reality. We need to know God and ourselves. A new self-awareness “leads us by the hand,” Calvin says, to find God. Isaiah begins there, with our most urgent need — a new self-awareness through the conviction of sin.

God’s Broken Heart

Isaiah 1:2 ESV
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.
Isaiah 1:3 ESV
The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Our Broken Strength

Isaiah 1:4 ESV
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.
Isaiah 1:5–6 NET
Why do you insist on being battered? Why do you continue to rebel? Your head has a massive wound, your whole body is weak. From the soles of your feet to your head, there is no spot that is unharmed. There are only bruises, cuts, and open wounds. They have not been cleansed or bandaged, nor have they been treated with olive oil.
Isaiah 1:8–9 NLT
Beautiful Jerusalem stands abandoned like a watchman’s shelter in a vineyard, like a lean-to in a cucumber field after the harvest, like a helpless city under siege. If the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had not spared a few of us, we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah.

God’s Unbroken Grace

Isaiah 1:9–10 ESV
If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah. Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
Deuteronomy 32:39 AV
See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.
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