‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

— Jesus, Matthew 22:37b—40

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Grace of a Perfectly Loving and Perfectly Righteous God

     Have you ever wondered whether God is really good? When we look around the world, we see so much disaster, pain, suffering and death. Why would a good God allow such injustice to occur? In fact, I bet most people have at some point in their lives even questioned the very existence of God based on the injustice of the world. I definitely have. The mere fact that bad things happen to seemingly good people makes it appear that God either doesn’t exist, or that He doesn’t care about us very much.

     This is one of the most important concepts that I have ever written about, so I implore you to read this commentary on God’s grace. I promise you that if you believe God is either disinterested at best or evil at worst, the Scriptures I point out for you will change your perception of God’s character. Whether you choose to reject the truths in Scripture is up to you, but you will not be able to say that the God of the Bible is disinterested or evil.

     Consider this hypothetical scenario. Imagine you have everything you could possibly imagine that would make you happy. For some reason, however, you are oddly not satisfied. Then a complete stranger comes along and says that he knows just what you need to finally get the happiness you’re looking for. The only catch is that you need to first give the stranger everything that you currently possess, whether money, investments, or property. Then you must hope that he will not only return what you entrusted to him, but that he will also give you what he promised, the thing that will make you truly happy.

     Now consider in my hypothetical that you took a chance on this offer, and the stranger never returns with your stuff, leaving you not only completely insolvent, but in debt more than you could ever repay in a lifetime. Who is to blame for your current condition? Would it be right for you to maybe demand that someone else restores all that you lost? Could anyone other than yourself and the thief ever have any blame for this problem of yours? Of course not! You would be to blame 100% for your foolish decision, nothing more to say.

     But let’s say you have a father, who full of compassion offers to give you everything he owns, which would restore you not only to the place you were in before you threw everything away and would pay off all your debt, but he also promised to actually double the prosperity you had before. After that kind of an offer, could you ever raise a complaint over anything to that compassionate father of yours? Could you ever argue with your father that he didn’t do enough? That he should have loved you more, or given you more, or been there for you more in your time of need?
     I hope the answer is self-evident. What should happen is that you would be so amazingly grateful that you would do anything to receive your father’s offer. But let’s say that for some reason you just can’t see your father’s generosity, because you actually feel that you deserve more from him. On top of it, you spit in your father’s face when he shows up at the gutter you are currently calling home, and yell at him to get lost! What should your father do? Would he be right to disown you? I think he would be perfectly just to disown such an ungrateful child.

     To take this little hypothetical one step further, consider that your father was the king, and the law of the land demands that anyone who disobeys the king and/or spits in the king’s face shall be punished by death. Wouldn’t the local sheriff be completely in the right to bring you to the gallows?

     To add another bizarre twist to my already bizarre storyline, what if the king’s oldest son voluntarily went to the gallows, taking your punishment, in your place? That wouldn’t even make sense, but it would certainly be the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you. Ever!

     Regardless of this incredible love you have been shown, what if you still rejected these offers to not only bail you out of your trouble, but to give you more than you could ever imagine? I have to say that by this point you would certainly deserve no more chances. But wouldn’t it make the offer so much more incredible if, despite all your disrespect, your father still gave you time to come around to reason and grasp his kindness?

     You probably have already guessed where I’ve been going with all this. Although this is far from a perfect example, what I have basically shared with you is the Gospel, as well as how mankind always responds to it – without God’s intervention anyway.

     You may disagree with me, insisting that the above scenario is not your story, that you never spit in Gods face. But if you insist on sticking to your position, please understand that you would be going against every word of Scripture, God’s word. The Bible says that you and I have done much worse than spit in God’s face. So either God’s word is true, or yours is true – sorry, but I’m going with God.

     The Apostle Paul wrote extensively on the hopeless depravity of man, explaining that we are simply not the good people we think we are: 
As it is written:

     “There is none righteous, no, not one;
          There is none who understands;
     There is none who seeks after God.
          They have all turned aside;
     They have together become unprofitable;
     There is none who does good, no, not one.”
Romans 3:10—12 (NKJV) (quoting Psalms 14:1—3; 53:1—3; Ecclesiastes 7:20).

     Paul also explained that we are actually enemies of God because of our sins:
     And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Colossians 1:21—23 (NKJV) (underlined emphasis added).

     The Bible makes it clear that not only are we not good, despite what we tend to think of ourselves, but we are actually alienated and enemies of God unless we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. So the real question in trying to understand God’s grace is to first understand why we are God’s enemies, and why or more importantly how we become reconciled.

     The quick answer is that we are born into the rebellion that was begun by our oldest ancestors, Adam and Eve. However, we can’t just blame them for our situation because as the verses quoted above make clear, by our wicked works we are disqualified from being righteous in God’s eyes. No matter how good we think we are, and no matter how many good deeds we do, the only way we may be presented to God as blameless and acceptable is if we are reconciled to God through the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us on the cross, which He offers to be our substitute.

     I want you to understand something that is critical about this. Many people say they are Christians, and say that they believe the statements above made by the Apostle Paul. Many people believe they are Christians because of the good deeds or rituals that they do. But I want you to be clear that the Bible teaches that many people on the day of judgment will be shocked that they were not true Christians. That despite saying they were followers of Jesus, they never actually surrendered to Him from their own rebellion. Merely believing that Jesus is real is not enough to reconcile yourself to God. James, the physical half-brother of Jesus warned, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19 (NKJV). You must also believe the message of Jesus, which was, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15b (NKJV).

     Repenting is the act of surrendering from our rebellion of sin, which is a nature that we are initially born into, but a voluntary act that we eventually fully partake of ourselves. Believing the Gospel is the act of putting your faith in the truth of Jesus taking the penalty that you rightly deserve due to your sin. Furthermore, it requires you to trust that only Christ’s work on the cross could satisfy the debt you owe due to your sin, and not any good deeds or rituals. The Bible unmistakably declares, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8, 9 (NKJV).

     Anything less would take credit away from the work Jesus alone did on the cross, bearing the sins of all who would repent and put their faith in Him. Jesus will not share His glory with anyone, “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:29 (NKJV). Besides, the Bible states that even the good things we do are insufficient because of our sin, “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6b (NKJV).

     Many people nevertheless, feel that they must do something to earn God’s grace. Jesus spoke of those people when He plainly stated, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 7:21a (NKJV). Jesus explained that not only false converts to Christianity will be left outside of the Kingdom of Heaven, but in fact most people, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13, 14 (NKJV). Sadly, this fate will be caused by personal rejection of God’s truth. Not one person on the day of judgment will be able to refute “that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they” rejected the truth of God. Romans 1:20b, 21a (NKJV).

     This is a concept that is so offensive to us because we don’t understand God, and we don’t believe the statement that we are not good. Without comprehending this fact, one can never understand God’s grace, and thus never understand why Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross can be the only way to salvation.

     The Apostle Paul taught that the Gospel message is not something we are naturally drawn towards understanding or accepting:
     For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

     “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
     And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
     Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:18—25 (NKJV) (quoting Isaiah 29:14).

     Paul also preached the offensiveness of the Gospel message:
As it is written:

“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense,
And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Romans 9:33 (NKJV) (the Apostle Paul quoting Isaiah 8:14; 28:16).

     The stumbling stone and rock of offense, as well as the foolishness of the cross, is the fact that we simply cannot get to the point of seeing our own wickedness. Until we understand our own wickedness, we will never understand or even truly want God’s grace. The only way to understand it is to see ourselves as God sees us.

     I think that one of the biggest concepts that impacted me in how I understood sin, was first understanding what Original Sin was all about. Many Christians and non-Christians alike have heard of the Original Sin that we inherited through Adam and Eve. The problem is that most people don’t really believe Adam and Eve ever existed. The Bible says that they did though, so again, either you are right or the Bible is. You have to choose which one to believe.

     When Adam and Eve were created, the Bible teaches that not only did God place them in paradise, but they were also made absolutely sinless, albeit having the potential to sin. Remember that the passage from Romans quoted above states that no one is good. See Romans 3:10—12. After creating the heavens and the earth though, God repeatedly said, “it was good.” Genesis 1:4b, 10b, 12b, 18b, 21b, 25b (NKJV). Moreover, after creating the first man and woman, God said, “it was very good.” Genesis 1:31b (NKJV) (underlined emphasis added).

     According to the passage from Romans, no one has been able to follow the Ten Commandments, and therefore no one is good. But Adam and Eve didn’t have ten rules to keep, they only had one. God told them, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16b, 17 (NKJV). You probably know how the story unfolds, Adam and Eve both ate the forbidden fruit. See Genesis 3:6.

     At the very moment that Adam and Eve ate it, God would have been totally just if He struck both of them dead and ended the human race. Most people think this is only some silly mythological tale because they can’t understand why an all powerful God would get so bent out of shape over a piece of fruit. Well, God didn’t care about the fruit. He cared about Adam and Eve’s loyalty. The ban against eating from a particular tree was a test of whether Adam and Eve would obey their Creator, or their own lustful desires.

     Eve’s reason for eating the fruit was to, “be like God.” Genesis 3:5b (NKJV). The act of eating the fruit was outright rebellion against God. Not only did Eve disregard God’s warning to stay away from the forbidden fruit, but she also believed Satan’s assault on God’s character, which was, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4b (NKJV).

     Satan had essentially told Eve that not only was God’s warning not true, and thus God was a liar, but also that God was keeping greatness from her. She heard the lie, believed it, and then followed the wicked desire of heart to transgress God’s command. See also James 1:14, 15 (explaining the process of falling into sin). Presumably Adam saw what happened, but regardless, we know that he voluntarily followed Eve into rebellion against God. We know this because Scripture teaches, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” 1 Timothy 2:14 (NKJV). Therefore, because Adam was not deceived, his transgression was voluntary.

     God could have killed them on the spot! I know you probably think that’s too harsh, I mean what’s the big deal, right? The big deal is that we’re talking about God’s rules, not yours. He made us, can He not decide what the rules are? Does He not have the right to? Does God have to listen to our “morality”? Please understand this, God is morality. What we have to say is meaningless.

     The Prophet Isaiah preached on this saying:
     Surely you have things turned around!
Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay;
For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
“He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
Isaiah 29:16 (NKJV).

      If you have never read the Book of Job, I highly recommend it. It deals with this whole issue on God’s character, His grace, why He allows suffering, and what He thinks about man trying to override His authority. For those who have never read it, Job is allowed to undergo extreme suffering as a test. Job loves God, but Satan accuses that Job only loves God because Job’s life has been blessed. See Job 1.

     There is this great moment when after Job’s friends have been so foolishly presuming that they understood God’s character, that God lets them all know clearly that it is God alone who makes the rules:
Who is this who darkens counsel
     By words without knowledge?

Now prepare yourself like a man;
     I will question you, and you shall answer Me.

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
     Tell Me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements?
     Surely you know!
     Or who stretched the line upon it?
Job 38:2—5 (NKJV).

     After being clearly set straight in his understanding, Job gives a wonderful response in full humility: 
Then Job answered the LORD and said:

“I know that You can do everything,
     And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.

You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
     Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
     Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

Listen, please, and let me speak;
     You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
     But now my eye sees You.

Therefore I abhor myself,
     And repent in dust and ashes.”
Job 42:1—6 (NKJV).

     The thing that Job understood was that it is God who makes the rules, and no one else. Furthermore, seeing God’s incredible kindness shown to Job by the blessings Job had not deserved due to his depraved nature, Job also understood God’s incredible kindness, His grace.

     Adam and Eve understood God’s grace too. Although God would have been perfectly right in killing Adam and Eve on the spot, God instead let them live for quite a long time, thereby allowing the human race to continue. See Genesis 5:5. Even when God approached Adam and Eve over their rebellion, it was with absolute kindness.

     Immediately after disobeying God, Adam and Eve were overcome with knowledge of their sin, and they “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:8b (NKJV). Instead of yelling and fist-shaking, as many of us do with our own disobedient children, God tenderly called out to Adam, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9b (NKJV). God didn’t pound Adam back into dirt, He was gentle with Adam. God simply called Adam to come into His presence.

     Don’t think for a minute that God didn’t know where Adam was. God knew exactly where Adam and Eve both were and what they had done; and by the way, He knows what you have done too.
     Once Adam and Eve came out from hiding, God again with incredible gentleness invited Adam to admit his sin of rejecting God, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” Genesis 3:11b (NKJV). God was bringing to light the fact that Adam and Eve had rejected God’s authority over them in favor of being their own gods, doing what they wanted to do instead of being happy with living under God’s rules.

     Then when given the opportunity to own up to their mistake, to take personal responsibility and repent, Adam pushed blame onto Eve and ultimately onto God for giving Eve to him saying, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” Genesis 3:12b (NKJV). Eve similarly rejected the opportunity for repentance and blamed Satan saying, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3:13b (NKJV).

     Don’t miss this point. The real rebellion of Adam and Eve was not just disobeying God, but disobeying God because they rejected God’s authority over them. God made it clear that Adam and Eve could have everything they saw in the Garden, except the fruit from one single tree. They could not follow that simple rule. Instead, they followed their own way. They put their faith in Satan and in themselves instead of trusting God’s word.

     God had every right to make good on His warning and cause mankind to die. He could have started over with a whole new race of a different creature, one that would be more willing to obey God. But He didn’t do that. In fact, it seems to me that God wants a willing heart to love Him, not a robotically obedient heart.

     Even though they had rejected God, and the opportunity to repent for their sins, God gave mankind another chance. This time however, we would have to live in a fallen cursed world. A world filled with pain and suffering, and ultimately with death. The death that all of us will one day experience is part of that exact punishment God promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden. We too could have been born in that very same Garden of Eden had our multi-great-grandparents not sinned against God and caused the curse of death to follow each and every one of us.

     God owes us nothing, but in His incredible kindness, He offers us grace. Immediately following the questioning of Adam and Eve, God promised that one day He would send a Savior to destroy our enemy Satan and put an end to sin. See Genesis 3:15. Amazingly, this promise was made prior to Adam and Eve being forgiven for their sin. This is one of the most incredible pictures of how kind our God is, and I think it too often gets overlooked.

     You see, God promised that He would send a Savior with an offer of redemption for Adam, Eve and the rest of their offspring – you and me. God promised this before Adam and Eve did anything to deserve it. Remember the quote from Ephesians above, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8, 9 (NKJV). Adam and Eve did nothing to deserve God’s forgiveness, in fact they deserved punishment. But God had mercy on them by choosing not to kill them on the spot, and then promised a Savior who would restore them from the curse of death, and would provide a greatness that none of us could even imagine. That is what God’s grace is all about!

     The promised Savior was to be the “Seed” of the woman, one of her own offspring. Genesis 3:15b (NKJV). At the time the promise was given, however, Adam and Eve did not yet have children, and on top of that were facing expulsion from Eden as well as death. There is a very interesting verse that used to seem a little out of place to me, “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” Genesis 3:20 (NKJV).

     That verse follows the promise of the Savior as well as the description of the cursed world we would live in. I could never understand why the author of Genesis would place the event of Eve being named there. Well, it’s actually the evidence of Adam and Eve’s salvation. They no longer doubted God, but had returned to trusting His word. Adam believed that despite being expelled from Eden and faced with eventual death, he and Eve would in fact have children, and one of their offspring would be the Savior. Despite what he could see, Adam now trusted God.

     We also know that God accepted Adam and Eve’s repentance and faith because God then killed an animal and covered Adam and Eve’s shame of nakedness with an animal’s skin. See Genesis 3:21. Up until that moment, no blood had ever been spilled because there was no death, and God had only given vegetation for food, “And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.’” Genesis 1:29 (NKJV). Through Moses, God explained the purpose of a blood atoning sacrifice, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” Leviticus 17:11 (NKJV).

     Because of God’s mercy and grace, He allows the blood of a substitute to satisfy the debt we owe for rebelling against our Creator. All of us have not only been born into the Original Sin of our earliest ancestors, but we have partaken of the rebellion ourselves, thus deserving our own individual punishment from God. All of us have lied, have blasphemed God’s holy name, taken things that didn’t belong to us, had lustful thoughts, unrighteous angry thoughts, and none of us have been content with the blessings God has already given us. The Apostle Paul wrote concerning Christ’s sacrifice saying, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13, 14 (NKJV).

     We don’t like to think of ourselves as deserving God’s punishment, deserving Hell. We will generally accept that we are all sinners, but we don’t like accepting that we deserve Hell. Our problem is that we don’t understand God’s grace, because we don’t understand our sinful condition. God sees even our petty sins as enough to keep us from God, “For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23a (NKJV). Despite the fact that we think so highly of ourselves, the Bible warns that we deceive ourselves, “There is a way that seems right to a man, [b]ut its end is the way of death.” Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV). Isaiah also preached:
     But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
Isaiah 59:2 (NKJV).

     Nevertheless, in His incredible kindness, God has made a way, He sent a Savior to redeem us from the curse of eternal death:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
     He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
John 3:14—19 (NKJV).

     All who would come out of hiding, and turn from their personal rebellion against God through repentance, and trust His word that Jesus was crucified in their place, will be saved! Whoever rejects this offer will be stuck with the curse of eternal death that their individual sins demand. God has the right and authority to crush us for our sins, but He is so patient, giving all of us ample time to come around to reason, and seek forgiveness, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV).

     The day is coming though when we will have no more opportunity to repent and trust in Him. Please don’t be like the fool in my silly hypothetical, constantly rejecting God’s free gift of mercy and grace. Despite the pain and suffering of this fallen world, which you likely have personally experienced, God is not indifferent to you and He is not evil. He is allowing us to live in this fallen world, corrupted by sinners like you and me, for the sole purpose of running away from this life into the arms of the Savior. God promises, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’” Romans 10:13 (NKJV) (quoting Joel 2:32b). Call on Him today!

     This is the greatest opportunity anyone has ever presented to you. You have traded any possibility of righteousness for the sin you have already committed. You now owe an eternal debt to God over your sin, which you will never be able to repay. See Matthew 18:23—27. God’s grace is free, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (NKJV). All you have to do is turn from your way, and trust in God’s way. If you hear His voice, do as Jesus commanded, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15b (NKJV).

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