“Yet he was compassionate; he atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them. He often turned his anger aside and did not unleash all his wrath. He remembered that they were only flesh, a wind that passes and does not return.” – Psalm 78:38-39 (CSB)
Even though Israel’s repentance was not genuine, God displayed incredible patience and compassion with his people. Although they did not keep their part of the covenant, he did. The infinite remembered the finite. Despite our relative insignificance in the grand scheme of eternity, God is gracious and merciful with us. So deep is his love and care for us that even in our sin, he did not destroy us but instead made a way through Jesus for us to be with him.
“But they deceived him with their mouths, they lied to him with their tongues, their hearts were insincere toward him, and they were unfaithful to his covenant.” – Psalm 78:36-37 (CSB)
When their situation turned for the better, Israel again wandered back into sin. Their repentance was not sincere. It was merely an effort to avoid the consequences of their sin. It’s easy to shake our heads at Israel but if we’re honest, we do the same thing. We honor God with our lips in an effort to get him to act on our behalf. But our motives are twisted. We want something from him so we feign contrition. In doing so we rob ourselves of the joy that comes from true repentance. May we honor God with our lips and in our hearts.
“Despite all this, they kept sinning and did not believe his wondrous works. He made their days end in futility, their years in sudden disaster. When he killed some of them, the rest began to seek him; they repented and searched for God. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God, their Redeemer.” – Psalm 78:32-35 (CSB)
Despite God’s miraculous provision of food in the wilderness, Israel was not satisfied. The nation continued to grumble, complain, and long for Egypt. Only when faced with calamity did some turn back to God. We too have a tendency to leave God out of the picture until we feel that we have exhausted all the other options. When our backs are against the wall, we are suddenly willing to cry out to God. Oh that we would remember God’s work on our behalf when times are good and when times are bad.
But Pharaoh responded, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him by letting Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” – Exodus 5:2 (CSB)
Pharaoh’s inquiry is not sincere. He is not genuinely asking, “who is this Yahweh and why should I listen to him?” He could care less. He considers himself to be God. He will do whatever he pleases. It’s a frightening attitude to have toward the all-powerful God of the universe. Yet Pharoah is not alone. We too take this approach.
Every time we ignore God’s commands, every time we take matters into our own hands, every time we think we know better, we effectively say, “Who is the Lord?” We act as if we are God and that we are the ones who know best. Thankfully God deals differently with us than he did with Pharaoh. He gives inexhaustible grace because of what Jesus did on our behalf.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? – Romans 6:1-2 (ESV)
Where grace exists, there is always a chance that it will be taken advantage of or misunderstood. But if our response to grace is to abuse it, then maybe we haven’t truly understood or embraced it. And where grace has not been understood or embraced, the solution is to proclaim grace all the more. That’s counter-intuitive. Limits and caveats seem like the way to curb the misuse of grace. What we really need is to encounter grace in all of its fullness. We need to see the deep cost at which God extends his grace to us. Only then do we realize that the old self is gone, the new self has come, and with it our identity has been fundamentally transformed. How could we continue to live as we did before our encounter with this kind of radical grace?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)
Grace. One word sums up the message of salvation. One word addresses our deepest need. One word shatters every categorical distinction.
Grace is for those who think they are beyond the reach of grace.
Grace is for those who think they don’t need any grace.
Grace is for those who think they are unlovable.
Grace is for those who think they are inherently lovable.
Grace is for those who think grace is only what “the other people” need.
Grace is for those who think they have grace figured out.
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” Luke 7:47 (ESV).
We have a tendency to minimize our need for forgiveness. It’s human nature to assume that others are worse sinners than we are. I do it. You do it. Simon the Pharisee did it. And it caused him to miss out on a potentially life-changing truth. The depth to which we experience the transforming power of God’s forgiveness depends on our ability to see the depth of our sin. Only when we grasp what we are really like can we appreciate the richness of God’s mercy and grace.