Our Urgent Need: A New Self-Awareness

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Greetings Pilgrims,
The following text, taken from the Authors' intro to their commentary on Isaiah 1:2–2:9, is a simple statement of a profound truth. They speak about a subject near and dear to the world of our day that believers are bombarded from all sides. I'm talking about one's self-image. I have heard prayer requests and advice-seeking by members of the PB that seem to be related.
It is suggested you read the Bible text first, which is at the bottom of the page.

Our Urgent Need: A New Self-Awareness
Isaiah 1:2–9

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.

We need a sense of sin. We shouldn't fear it or resent it. It is not destructive. It is life-giving, if we have the courage to let Christ save us. We are often told—or just whispered to—that what we need is more self-esteem. That is false. What we need is more humility and more Christ-esteem.​
William Kilpatrick distinguishes self-esteem, with its non-judgmentalism, from self-awareness, with its clear consciousness of sin:​
A colleague 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.

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.

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 Isaiah 1 is God's way of disturbing us until we start asking the courageous Godward questions that can breathe life back into us.

_Ortlund, R. C., Jr., & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Isaiah: God saves sinners (pp. 24–26). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

1 Paul Tournier, Escape From Loneliness (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), p. 163.
2 William Kilpatrick, "Faith & Therapy," First Things, February 1999, p. 23.

Isaiah 1:2–2:9 (KJV)
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: For the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knoweth his owner, And the ass his master's crib: But Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.
4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, A seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: They have forsaken the Lord, They have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, They are gone away backward.
5 Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more: The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; But wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: They have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
7 Your country is desolate, Your cities are burned with fire: Your land, strangers devour it in your presence, And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, As a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, As a besieged city.
9 Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, We should have been as Sodom, And we should have been like unto Gomorrah.


Puritan Board Freshman
I get this in discussions with my mother, who says she believes in Jesus. She doesn't believe in the infallibility of the Bible or that Jesus alone is the way to God. She doesn't believe God would punish people who are generally "good", like my brother who is an avowed atheist but is a pretty good person according to societal standards. She also says "How would you be able to be happy in heaven if you knew I was suffering for eternity?"

What I can't seem to get her to understand is that she thinks of God entirely according to human constructs. She thinks society's morals are his morals. She doesn't understand how someone who had never had any exposure to Jesus or an opportunity to believe in him can still be under condemnation. She thinks that she is a generally good person, that she "tried" as she explained it once, and that most people also are and that God would have no reason to send most people to hell.

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.
This reminds of a Catholic hymn I heard of in grade school, one I found to be so beautiful, "Holy Darkness". One of the verses includes this line, "My love can seem like a raging storm, but this is the love that saves".

Conviction of sin, that we stand before God with nothing in our account that can acquit us of the punishment we deserve, generally would have to be that first step in the process of conversion. Else there is no real reason why we should look to Jesus for much, except for maybe an example of how to live a better life. It appears to me that that is the great deception which the Devil has made so ubiquitous--that the Bible just teaches us morals. Then you get the detractors that take apart the book of Deuteronomy, holding up the "controversial" parts and saying how can you consider those to be moral? To stand upon that ground, that the Bible is a book of morals, then leads to "cherry-picking", throwing away those parts that don't comport with the morals of our day.

The only way to regard the Bible in it's entirety is as a book that describes God's plan to save sinners from destruction. Yet then you have churches that don't preach about sin (???). Satan's lies are so over-powering--people just do not want to hear what they don't like. And then pastors don't want to not be liked by the people they preach to. So they cut out part of God's counsel and make it into something it is not. How we need to pray for the Lord to take down the strongholds of Satan.

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
How we need to pray for the Lord to take down the strongholds of Satan.
Great observations, Anne. Thanks for your comments, with a personal touch.
Sadly, your mother is like many or probably most American people. The morally "good" ones. I have been a Christian for over 45 years and, I hope, made some progress in sanctification. But along with that is the agony of seeing and painfully feeling the darkness that still remains in our corrupted self. And as Jeremiah 17:9 says, "no one can know it." I.e., how dark it really is.

What a great Savior we have that loves people like me.
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