Friday, April 17, 2015

Book Review: Isaiah: God Saves Sinners

Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. R. (Preaching The Word Commentaries). Crossway. 2005. 496 pages. [Source: Bought]

I could gush about this commentary on Isaiah for days if not weeks and weeks. I won't lie. It did take me months to read it all. I tried to read a chapter or two per week. But it wasn't a chore or a duty to keep on reading it. Far from it. It was a book I picked up with pleasure and joy. For each chapter is packed with information and insight and grace and hope. No matter the chapter, there was always something thought-provoking or engaging. So even if you don't typically read commentaries--consider this one! It isn't so much a commentary--though it does examine every verse and chapter of the book of Isaiah--as it is a collection of expository sermons preached from the book of Isaiah.

This book is one of the best books I've ever read. It has depth and substance, but it's oh-so-accessible. Yes, five hundred pages is a commitment. But taken a chapter or two at a time, it's well worth your time. And I do recommend reading it slowly, and, alongside the book of Isaiah. I think the more of yourself you give to the reading, the more you'll learn. Engage with the text. Consider it. Be willing to ask hard questions and be honest with your answers.

I learned so much from each and every chapter. Here's a small taste of what to expect.

From the preface:
God saves sinners. We don’t believe that. We bank our happiness on other things. But God says to us, “I’m better than you think. You’re worse than you think. Let’s get together.” The prophet Isaiah wants to show us more of God and more of ourselves than we’ve ever seen before. He wants us to know what it means for us to be saved. Do we have the courage to listen? But God has opened a way for us to swim eternally in the ocean of his love. Our part is to look beyond ourselves and stake everything on God, who alone saves sinners.
As a pastor, it’s not my job to protect people from the living God. My job is to bring people to God, and leave them there.
From chapter one the introduction to Isaiah:
Every day we treat God as incidental to what really matters to us, and we live by our own strategies of self-salvation. We don’t think of our choices that way, but Isaiah can see that our lives are infested with fraudulent idols. Any hope that isn’t from God is an idol of our own making... A salvation we don’t even know how to define, Isaiah is an expert at explaining to us. He wants to lead us into a life that outlasts our earthly expiration date.
J. I. Packer puts into words the greatness of the Isaianic message: God saves sinners. God — the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of the Father and Son by renewing. Saves — does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners — men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, blind, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners. . . . Sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory forever, amen!
If the world is not experiencing the grace of God, the church is being untrue to its destiny.
From chapter two: Our Urgent Need: A New Self Awareness I
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.
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.
The reason we see so little repentance in the world is that the world sees so little repentance in the church.

The church survives because God saves sinners. He sees what we would become, left to ourselves, and in mercy he stretches out his hand and says, “I will not let you go.” That is why the evil inside every one of us doesn’t explode with its actual power, to our destruction (Romans 9:29). Apart from God’s preserving grace, we would relive the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are what they were. We deserve what they got. That’s what God says. And the only reason we’re still here is his overruling mercy saving us from ourselves.
From chapter three: Our Urgent Need: A New Self Awareness II
Rebellion against God is our problem. But God saves rebels. And true worship is rebels like us waving the white flag of surrender before our rightful Lord in repentance.
Let’s ask ourselves, what do we think is unbearably repulsive to God, to his very soul, right down to the depths of the Divine Being? We might answer, hard-core crime, the exploitation of children, terrorist mayhem —that sort of thing. It might not occur to us that what the soul of God hates and is burdened and wearied by is the worship we offer him, if we are not in repentance.
From chapter four: Our Urgent Need, A New Self Awareness III
What is redemption? Redemption explains how God saves us. How does he? By paying a personal price. In real life, we sin our way right into bondage, and there’s no easy way out. If we try to cover it up or make excuses, we dig ourselves in deeper. Every day we create the conditions in which we literally deserve Hell. But what does God do? He offers to get us out of trouble at his own expense. He offers to absorb within himself the consequences we have set in motion. He pays the price, so that we don’t have to, because we can’t anyway. That’s redemption. If you have sinned your way into helplessness, where you deserve to reap what you have sown, you can be redeemed. God is not only willing to pay the price, he already has — at the cross of Christ. You can enter into redemption freely, by his grace.
We add nothing to the value of Jesus’ sacrifice, but his love does claim all that we are. The flip side of God paying the price is that we are no longer our own (1 Corinthians 6:19b, 20a). What else can we do but repent? We need to repent of our sins every day. We need to repent of our fifth-rate righteousness every day. We need to receive afresh, with the empty hands of faith, real righteousness from Jesus Christ every day. The cross becomes a redeeming power for us as we learn what it means to repent.
From chapter five: The Transforming Power of Hope and Humility
We think too well of ourselves and too poorly of God to believe that his love for his glory and his love for us are one love, drawing him on to the final day when we will be forever happy with his glory alone. But how could it be otherwise? Human fulfillment is union with God.
Do you believe that there is enough glory in God to make you happy forever? If you don’t, why? What failing have you found in God? The gospel promises that his glory will remake the whole world. Stop valuing the idols you not only might lose but inevitably must lose. Learn to enjoy God. The triumph of his glory is enough to make your complete happiness forever invincible.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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