Monday, February 18, 2019

Book Review: Discovering the Good Life

Discovering the Good Life. Tim Savage. 2019. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the prologue: This is a book about life... When God created life, he meant it to be fulfilling. How do we find fullness of life in a world full of trouble? No one ever radiated more life than Jesus Christ. It is the burden of my heart, in the pages that follow, to uncover his perspective of life.

First sentence from chapter one: What is so good about life? Our hearts long for a winning answer.

Tim Savage sets out to answer the question WHAT IS THE GOOD LIFE? or to phrase it slightly differently WHAT MAKES LIFE GOOD? His answer is simple and obvious--to some--but perhaps not to others. Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. There is no good life apart from Christ Jesus--that is Savage's premise.

How he sets about sharing this good news about the good life is unique. He arranges the gospel as the story of three trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a shoot from the stump of Jesse, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit. (The second tree is NOT the cross but the person of Jesus Christ.)

A chapter is spent on each "tree" and he takes care to join all three together into a strong, compelling narrative. The last chapter is spent on the healing powers of the fruit of the tree of life. In this chapter he goes through many of Paul's lists. There was so much to unpack in this chapter--I feel like I could read it a few more times and still be picking up more insights.

But the book isn't just a unique or clever gospel presentation. The book is about how people answer some of life's biggest questions. What is the meaning of life? Is life good? Is life worth living? Why am I here? Why am I so unhappy? Why am I never satisfied? Why does life feel so empty and worthless? Savage points the way to HOPE and JOY. Again the answer is JESUS.

The imagery and phrasing of some of Savage's text was a bit new and perplexing to me at times. But overall I think this is a good read. I particularly enjoyed the later chapters of this one which really focus on how to live life well.

  • Looking carefully at the biblical account, we can see that the first tree is a gift more valuable than the cumulative worth of all the other trees. What makes the first tree so special is the prohibition against eating its fruit. Without such a sanction, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would probably differ little from its arboreal neighbors. It would possess leaves, bark, and fruit, just as any other tree. But by declaring it off limits, God distinguishes it from the others, if not by appearance, then at least by function.
  • The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has the power either to make or to break human beings. It holds the key to life.
  • Why did Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit? The answer can be summed up in one word: desire. Powerful and passionate desire. 
  • Chasing desire, the first humans lost Paradise. This is the lesson of the first tree, and it is a lesson we ignore at our peril. When we seek to satisfy our desires apart from God, we will not find satisfaction of life; instead, we will find a life greatly diminished.
  • There is a word in the Bible for seeking to build a life apart from God. It is the word sin. Sin is an ugly word. If we had our way, we would probably banish it from our vocabulary, regarding it as a useless relic of a religious past. But banish it we must not. Sin is actually a good word, for it discloses the root of our problem. Without an understanding of sin, we don’t know what ails us or, consequently, how to seek a cure. 
  • Godly anger is the flip side of godly love. Not to be angry in the face of unfaithfulness is not truly to love.
  • “There’s only one safe route to the summit. All others could prove fatal.” Narrow prescriptions can both fend off death and enrich life.
  • Are we ready for the second tree? First, we must confess our need of it, acknowledging that we have veered from the trail. We must admit our sin. Second, we must ask—we must pray—that God would reach down to us again with a second tree.
  • In the ancient world, crucifixion was so reviled that the Greek word for cross, stauros, was considered an expletive and unfit for public conversation. Frequently in the literature, it was not even spelled out. Only the first letter, sigma, appeared, followed by six hyphens.
  • The cross was the most repugnant object of antiquity. But it was also history’s most fruitful tree. It was on a cross that a Shoot from the Stump of Jesse produced the world’s greatest harvest. It was there that Jesus restored life to humanity. Life drawn from an instrument of death—how is it possible? It is the quintessential paradox.
  • By swimming against the prevailing tide of his day, by pushing against the attempts of men and women to build better lives for themselves apart from God, by opposing the sins of humanity, Jesus ran headlong into the dominant flow. By pushing upstream, he elicited pushback. 
  • Jesus posed a mortal threat to the way they pursued their lives. To safeguard their existence they mounted a counterattack. In selfdefense, they pushed back. They sought to crush what would otherwise crush them and their way of life. It was a battle to the death—the countercurrent of Jesus pushing upstream and the popular current of humanity pushing back. At the intersection of the two flows, a mighty collision took place.
  • Jesus was no passive victim. He was a warrior with a purpose. On the cross, Jesus did more than just die to life. He did more than expire by asphyxiation. He also died to sin. By going all the way to the end of his life without once yielding to sin, without once seeking to make a life for himself apart from God, without once succumbing to selfish ambitions, Jesus overcame sin. 
  • Jesus died to sin. And by doing so, he overcame what overcomes us.
  • Liberated from the selfish gene, we are no longer enslaved to self. Too few of us are aware of this liberation. Even many Christians struggle to come to grips with the meaning of cocrucifixion with Christ. 
  • Through his death, he loosens the shackles of the flesh. He sets us free from selfishness and the self-serving dogmas of the world. He liberates us from the contaminating spirits of our day. 
  • Lapsing into selfish thoughts and self-serving behavior is something we all do. But we are not bound to continue. We are free from the domination of sin. Cleansed and forgiven, we are able not to sin.
  • Not only does Christ cut us loose from the shackles of sin, he also severs the cords of death.
  • Life is a quest for fleeting pleasure on the way to oblivion. Except that it is not. In a Shoot from the Stump of Jesse, God creates a new way to be human. On the tree of Calvary, the Creator trades places with us, climbing, as it were, into our well and taking our place at the end of our branch, submitting himself to the death which ought to have been ours.
  • No mortal can earn infinite love. But the inability to earn God’s love doesn’t stop God from loving us. He allocates his love not on the basis of what we do, but on the basis of who he is. 
  • We must return again and again to the foot of the cross and gaze at the love hanging there. We must allow the love of the second tree to penetrate our innermost beings. We must pray it into our hearts. We must marvel that it is ours, and not because of anything we have done, but because of who God is. He is a Father who loves his children.
  • Many contemporary Christians are better schooled in the first half of Christ’s work—death to the old life—than they are in the second half—birth to the new life. Early Christians, however, were well-schooled in both. The crucifixion was central to their faith, but so, too, was the resurrection.
  • The cross anticipates the resurrection and the resurrection crowns the cross. To focus on one and not the other is to diminish the work of both.
  • The last of the three trees occupies a strategic place at both ends of Holy Scripture. It makes a cameo appearance in the initial pages of the Bible, in the garden of Eden, where it is given the name “the tree of life” (Gen. 2:9). Little more is said about the tree until it reappears at the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation.
  • To be seated is to be not standing. Christ, as it were, is no longer on his feet, moving about and walking around. He is no longer healing the sick, teaching the disciples, multiplying the bread and the fish, rebuking the religious authorities, dying on a cross, or rising from the dead. In Paul’s vision of heaven, Jesus is sitting down, and it is important to understand why. It is because Christ has finished his work. This becomes clear when we notice where Christ is sitting, his position. He is sitting “at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). It’s the highest position of all, reserved for the ranking dignitary of the universe. It is a seat Christ occupies by virtue of having finished his work. He has fulfilled the divine commission, the job the heavenly Father gave him to do.
  • We are not as earthbound as we may think. We have been raised up with Christ so high that we can look into heaven. With one foot still planted on earth, we can lift the other foot and stride, as it were, into the Celestial City. We can seek the things above. We can live now in the light of the reality of heaven.
  • Paul is encouraging us to seek and to lock into the things above, which, as we know, is to seek and to lock into Jesus Christ. But note: it is not the Christ of the past, on the cross or in the resurrection, but the Christ of the present, seated at the right hand of God in heaven and presiding over ultimate realities. We lock into the ascended Christ.
  • To know ourselves to be indwelled by Christ is to be filled by infinite life. It is to be secure in him. It is never to lose heart. It is always to be more than a conqueror.
  • Sin clings to our inner beings like stage 4 cancer. It must be excised. We need the hands of a skilled surgeon. Gratefully, we are attended by just such hands. The one who dwells in us is also the one who—prior to indwelling us—scrubs us clean. Jesus is our surgeon. He has the power of God in his hands—hands working from a cross, hands paying the penalty of our sins.
  • Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other—these are the articles of the wardrobe of Christ, and also of people in whom Christ dwells.
  • Life, as God intended it, is a verb. Life is an action. Life gives itself away. This is a crucial insight, but an elusive one. Few of us instinctively regard life as a verb. Rather, we view life as a noun, or as a collection of nouns. We define our lives in terms of people, places, and things—in terms of meeting people, visiting places, and accumulating things. We pursue life by pursuing nouns.
  • It takes daily reminding that, as children of God, we are filled with a love so great that it can never be diminished—not by troubling circumstances, not by failed relationships, not by past regrets, not by present failures, not by any kind of loss. 
  • What do you say to people who have yet to discover fullness of life? You tell them the truth. Jesus Christ promised life and promised it in abundance. Moreover, he has done everything in his matchless power to fulfill the promise. On the cross, he purged the power of what ruins life—sin. On the cross, he paid the penalty of what ends life—death.
  • While much is said in the Bible about sin, about identifying and acknowledging sin, much is also said about putting sin in the rearview mirror. Prolonged contemplation of sin impedes forward movement.
  • What, then, do we do with sin? We confess it, weep over it, repent of it—but we do not linger unnecessarily over it. For Paul, the length of time elapsing between acknowledging his sin—“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”—and shifting into a higher gear—“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24–25)—is probably no more than a few seconds, since the two sentiments appear in consecutive sentences.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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