Sermon Series: Isaiah: Judgment & Hope
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 26:4-13
Sermon Title: The Majesty of God
Memory Verse: At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; for when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. (Is. 26:9)
MAIN IDEA: Diligently seek and long for the God of judgment.
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.
The Culture of Self-Esteem
In 1991, a children’s book called, The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem was published. The Lovables conveys a simple, encouraging message: You, the tiny child reading this book or having this book to you, is very special.
The culture of self-esteem began in the 1960s and 1970s and by the 1980s and 1990s, the self-esteem culture was in full swing. The idea behind the movement is to raise people’s self-esteem, and it will result in their being successful in life.
The reason people are angry, resort to drugs, commit a crime, or fail in business or education is because of a lack of self-esteem. Self-esteem is woven deeply into the fabric of our culture. Every facet of society works to raise the self-esteem of the individual. Best-selling books such as I’m OK – You’re OK and Chicken Soup for the Soul, lead the way of indoctrination.
Corporate America builds self-esteem through the teachings of Dale Carnegie and confidence boosting workshops. Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking becomes required reading for Wall-Street executives.
Public schools adopt the philosophy with a vengeance. Self-esteem is a primary focus of our education system. Schools install mirrors with engraved inscriptions saying, “You are now looking at one of the most special people in the whole world!” Correcting papers with red ink is forbidden for fear of harming a child’s self-esteem. Every student passes to the next grade.
Those indoctrinated as elementary school students in the 1980s are now college professors and faculty members who create safe spaces to protect college students from opposing viewpoints and truth which will hurt their ego. Coloring books and puppy rooms are provided to reduce the stress of election results.
Generations of Americans believe deeply that we suffer not from the problem of original sin, but the problem of low self-esteem. The prevailing belief is that achievement and success are linked exclusively to how one feels about oneself. If we can help people feel good about themselves, they will not take drugs or be angry, but instead will become productive and successful contributors to society.
(NOTE: The above section is paraphrased from this internet article (source). It is an excellent analysis on the impact of self-esteem on the American culture)
Self-esteem is the aim of our culture
Where has the self-esteem culture led us today? The idea of the importance of self-esteem is so ingrained in our culture that to downplay self-esteem is the same as opposing common sense. To teach against promoting self-esteem is nothing short of cultural heresy.
Everyone is convinced that, if I fail, it is because I am a victim of external circumstance. I am never to blame for my shortcomings because I am special. Something outside me is preventing me from reaching my full potential. It is not my fault; it is the fault of my parents, spouse, school, employer, government, or church (or all of the above). If it were not for everyone else, I’d be on top of the world. Nobody is a victim of their own doing.
We live in a culture where criminals have a high-view of themselves. Everybody person is above average. Every idea is worth pursuing. Nobody fails a test. Nobody loses a game, and everyone gets a participation trophy. There is no wrong or right. Everything is relative to the individual. If you think you are right, then you are right. If you think living a reckless immoral lifestyle is good, who are we to tell your lifestyle is wrong?
Self-esteem permeates our justice system. Calling a spade a spade is not allowed if it causes harm to the self-esteem of the spade. Do not dare call a man who thinks he is a woman a man. It may cost you your job. Don’t share the Bible because it is hate speech that damages people’s self-esteem. Don’t be a fascist, bigoted Christian. Be tolerant.
Everyone in America has a wonderful self-esteem. But, we live in a society with out of control gun violence, an opioid crisis, corrupt government, increased racial tensions, and students graduating without knowing how to read or write.
People never become better by stroking their ego.
Self-esteem and the Church
Self-esteem is the original sin of Adam dressed-up in psychological clothing. It is a new spin on an old product.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan seduces Adam and Eve to build their self-esteem. He convinces them to eat forbidden fruit so that they will be like God. Ever since then, every person seeks to be like God. We seek to fulfill our destiny and our outcome because it is our life. We aspire to be kings and queens and despise being humble servants.
The seduction of self-esteem is a powerful attraction. All who give in to her wiles are an enemy of God and haters of the gospel.
We do not have to look far to find the attractive, seducing doctrine of self-esteem in the church. In our day and age, the founding Apostle of the “believe in yourself” doctrine is Robert Schuller. Millions of people around the globe buy into Schuller’s proclamation of the “theology of self-esteem” and a belief in the power of “possibility thinking.” (source)
Schuller is dead, but his teachings are alive and well in Christianity. The disciples of Schuller are many. His teachings permeate most of the so-called evangelical churches in America. Sin is tolerated because the goal is to build-up listeners with ideas to make them feel good about themselves. Listen to popular preachers to see if they ever talk about holiness, sin, or dying to self. It is a centuries-old teaching that the Bible calls tickling people’s ears.
Don’t hurt the delicate feelings of the people in the pews. Don’t say that they are wrong. Don’t tell them their thinking is flawed. Dare not say that their way of living is self-serving. Don’t be unloving by judging their sin.
What raising self-esteem has done is filled America with pride, arrogance, and narcissism. Egotists are not sinful creatures in need of a savior. “May I tell you about the gospel?” “I’m okay, thank-you.”
Christian counselors will tell us that it is a rarity to have someone seek counsel on how to overcome sin or how to be humble. Most people seek counsel because they want to feel better. They want to know how to overcome hurt in their life. (Don’t misunderstand me. This is not a bad thing and is encouraged. We need to know how to overcome hurt and to find joy in our Christian walk.) The nonexistence of people asking for help with sin and humility speaks to the indoctrination of the self-esteem philosophy which permeates our culture.
The Self-esteem Bottom Line
The fact of the matter is that we are not good. If there is any good in a Christian, it is only because of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul says, it is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the reason any of us are good. It is impossible to love our wife as Christ loves the church without the help of God’s enabling Spirit. It is impossible to be a humble servant without Christ living in us. It is impossible to joyfully give tithes and offerings without God’s supernatural work of saving grace. We do not live, but it is Christ living in us.
Zane’s message last week on the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross is a direct attack on self-esteem. (Thank you, Zane!) Our fleshly human heart wants to find some way to justify ourselves and make ourselves holy. There is nothing we can do to add to our salvation.
Jesus did it all. He saves to the uttermost. Our giving to the poor, abstaining from alcohol, fasting three times a month, wearing a tie in church, or getting baptized does not save us. Christ’s work on the cross is the full and sufficient sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, if we desire to grow in Christ, we must allow and encourage the preaching and ministry of the full counsel of God’s Word. We must not allow our ego, or our fragile self-esteem dictate our spiritual diet. Don’t read just read sections of the Bible that make you feel good. Be aware that many Christian book stores and radio stations spew forth man-centered ideals to make you feel good about yourself. We need the truth and the truth is what sets us free.
Herein is the truth. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Although it hurts our self-esteem to hear this, we must know that we need a Savior every day. Our problem is not on the outside but on the inside. It is from the wellspring of our heart which flows the streams of anger, jealousy, hatred, bitterness, and lust.
The Bible teaches an opposite message of self-esteem. There is no self-esteem in the Bible. When we think of ourselves too highly, we are in deep trouble. The Bible says the answer is to die to ourselves daily. Don’t build ourselves up, die to self. Don’t esteem ourselves highly, humble ourselves.
Is dying to self a depressing message? Is the call to holiness an impossible burden to bear? Yes, if we have to do it on our strength. The call to take up our cross and follow Christ is impossible without Christ. Praise be to God that He not only saves us from ourselves, but He continues to save us and keeps us in the palm of His hand where nobody may snatch us away.
Isaiah’s Words of Condemnation
Lest we think we are the only culture guilty of self-esteem, let’s turn our attention to the words of Isaiah. There is no book in the bible with more words condemning the self-esteem of men. Isaiah begins his writings speaking about the condemnation of the nation of Israel. They are prideful and arrogant. Their wickedness equals the wickedness of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are guilty of sin, and the only reason God spares a remnant is grace. If God does not choose to save a remnant, they will suffer the consequences of being utterly wiped from the face of the earth.
Isaiah is not a popular figure in Israel. He obliterates any feelings of self-worth. He destroys the arrogance of those who believe they are capable and wise and able to exist without God. Isaiah says all the plans and purposes of the people of Israel amount to nothing. The people of Israel who think they are amazing, rich, intelligent, beautiful, and strong are nothing in God’s eyes.
Isaiah knows the condemnation of Israel because he saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. All he could say is, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Isaiah’s words of condemnation are not just for Israel. The God of Israel who speaks to Isaiah is the Lord God over all the nations. After speaking of the ruin of Israel, Isaiah’s words turn to the rest of the world. Chapters 13 through 27 are God’s word of condemnation against all the surrounding nations.
Burning Anger of God
It is a grave mistake to underestimate or to downplay God’s anger with the sin of mankind. Listen to Isaiah 13:9-11:
- 9 Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
Cruel, with fury and burning anger,
To make the land a desolation;
And He will exterminate its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light.
11 Thus I will punish the world for its evil
And the wicked for their iniquity;
I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud
And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.
God hates the godlessness of mankind.
Isaiah speaks of God’s judgment against Babylon, Assyria, Moab, Damascus, Cush (Ethiopia), Egypt, Edom, Arabia, and Tyre. These nations and cities are the surrounding neighbors of Israel. The nations listed represent the known world.
Lest we think that people living outside of this vast geographic area get a free pass, Isaiah tells of God’s judgment on the rest of the earth. Nobody is left out. Listen to this excerpt from chapter 24:
- 3 The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the Lord has spoken this word. 4 The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away. 5 The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left (which we know are the elect of God, chosen by grace).
There is Good News
What is God teaching us in these 14 chapters? First, let me say that we will be looking at these chapters again next week (Lord willing). There are many beautiful gems which give a foundation for the New Testament writers, specifically we find what I believe to be the clearest teaching on the resurrection of the Saints in the Old Testament. (I encourage everyone to take time to read through these chapters beforehand.)
For this week, we will focus on the MAIN IDEA which is that we are to: Diligently seek and long for the God of judgment.
In these chapters, the primary teaching s that God is declaring that without Him, humanity is worthy of condemnation. Israel and the surrounding nations, indeed, the entire world, is deserving of punishment. The reason is their godlessness. People choose to ignore their Creator. Without God, man is nothing. Just as the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 3, there is no Jew or Gentile who is righteous or does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-18).
These chapters are not in the Bible so that we will feel good about ourselves. There is no building of our self-esteem in these pages. Salvation is by grace alone.
Where then are we to find hope? How may these words of judgment make our heart sing for joy? Where in these pages will we find comfort and solace and a sense of purpose?
The passage we read during the Scripture reading (chapter 26) provides us the answer to these questions.
- 9 At night my soul longs for You,
indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently;
for when the earth experiences Your judgments
the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
It is the grace of God that in revealing His judgment of the nations, He reveals what is right and good and what is evil. Without the revelation of God’s judgments, we cannot learn righteousness. In God’s revelation, we learn the character of God. We learn of His holiness and His standard for what is good.
Without learning and understanding righteousness, we are without truth.
- 10 Though the wicked is shown favor,
He does not learn righteousness;
He deals unjustly in the land of uprightness,
and does not perceive the majesty of the Lord.
These 14 chapters in Isaiah reveal the majesty of God. The unrighteous do not perceive the majesty of God. But, in reading them, we see His glory. We see His perfection. We see His grace. It is only by understanding God’s judgment and the depth of our sin that we may see the depth of His love and forgiveness. These chapters serve as a frame for the painting of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. In the poverty of our condition we gain a greater appreciation for the fullness of His unfathomable riches.
With these words written by the prophet Isaiah, we see what the world does not see. Our eyes become open! God reveals to us our total depravity without Him and that He gives us Christ’s righteousness as a beautiful Pearl of great price.
The goal of this passage is to take our eyes off the deceiving pursuit of feeling good about ourselves. The reason to spend so much time in the beginning of the message talking about how our culture values self-esteem is so that during the week, you will have the wisdom to discern the truth. Our culture screams “Be all you can be” and “have it your way.” Every day this week our culture will spew the deceiving doctrine of self-esteem. Be forewarned. Be on your guard. Learn discernment.
The Bible teaches that when we endeavor to pursue and find value in our achievements, abilities, strengths, or wisdom (the work of our hands and mind; our striving to succeed), we will never find fulfillment. In other words, seeking happiness and fulfillment in self-esteem and feeling good about ourselves is a vain pursuit. The last thing we need is to allow our flesh to “have it our way.” The result will be our ultimate destruction.
The goal of these chapters on judgment is not to feel good about ourselves but to feel good about God. God is worthy of pursuing. God is of supreme value. He is the source of all good. He is our source of peace, comfort, joy, satisfaction, and happiness. We will always succeed when we seek God and give Him the glory.
As the Westminster Confession states, the chief end of man is not to find joy in ourselves, but to find our joy in glorifying God. Do this and find complete and abundant fulfillment for your every need.