“But God” – Ephesians 2:4a (CSB)
Two words change everything. Two words preceed the announcement of good news. Two words convey the supernatural. We were dead in our sins, but God. We followed the ways of the world, but God. We went after the sinful desires of our heart, but God. We carried out the passions of our flesh, but God. We deserved wrath, but God. We could do nothing for ourselves, but God took the initiative to do it for us.
“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.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand.” (Psalm 130:3 ESV)
We naturally overestimate our own goodness. We minimize our sins and instinctively magnify the sins of others. We arrogantly claim in both word and deed that we know better than God. Worse, we scoff at the notion that a loving God would call us to live in ways that are at odds with what we want and how we feel. Were it not for the indescribable mercy of God, we would all be doomed. Yet there is hope.
“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4 ESV emphasis mine)
When you owe a debt that can’t be paid and you receive forgiveness, the natural response is humility, reverence, and awe. You don’t look for loopholes. You don’t pretend you know better. You don’t take advantage of the situation. You seek to do the will of the one you have offended. You follow him even when it doesn’t make sense or it goes against what you feel. Forgiveness fuels a life of holiness. It leads us to say, “yes” when we want to say, “but.”
“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.