One of my favorite things about God is that He is gracious. In fact, God reveals Himself to Moses as One who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6 ESV) I don’t know about you, but I need to know more about these things. I think we presently live in an unforgiving age that is very quick to point a finger, and very slow to extend mercy. To put it in religious terms, we have all the terrors of the law, and no knowledge of the grace of Christ.
In such a world, people are quick to accuse one another. In such a context, we are actively pursuing the failings of one another, rather than seeking out the good in one another. The danger in such a world is that you can only sling so much mud before you get dirty yourself.
What I love about the self-description of God from Exodus is that He is both gracious and just. He reveals Himself as one who is utterly holy. Habakkuk says that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” (Hab. 1:13 ESV) His justice is not a matter of indifference, as some might contest, nor is the God of the New Testament different than the God of the Old Testament, as some heretics supposed in the ancient church have espoused. (I’m looking at you Marcion.) The tension that we sit under today is that God is holy, yet merciful.
How can we have mercy and justice? The simple Sunday school answer still remains true: the answer is Jesus. It is only by the work of Christ that we can understand the words of Psalm 85:10 “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” (ESV) How can God’s justice be satisfied so that we sinners can be at peace with Him? Only by Christ.
I highlight this because in the global church, there have been false teachers, such as a British monk named Pelagius who taught that man was not enslaved to sin, and that he simply needed to put forth the appropriate effort to win heaven. In many ways, our own culture echoes his cry. Our pride struggles to believe that we are truly helpless in the salvation of our souls. We have to earn our salvation or nothing will do. But at the same token, this demand for perfection leaves no room for grace. We live in a graceless society, which will devour whomever offends its sensibilities.
Is this how God works? God does indeed demand perfection. Jesus even said it, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48 ESV) I’m certainly not perfect, and neither are you. So are we hopeless? If we are merely looking to what we can accomplish on our own, we are indeed hopeless for we are imperfect beings. To argue otherwise is either to diminish the demands of God’s law, or diminish our selfishness. The Bible calls all who would believe that liars: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 ESV)
We must turn to the Word of God to guide us. God reveals these words, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:3-4 ESV) God, in sending His Son Jesus Christ, has accomplished what we never could. Jesus kept the entirety of God’s law in our place. Jesus willing surrendered his life over to suffer the death we deserved. He satisfied God’s holy wrath, down to the last drop, so that we could have peace with God.
Peace with God is not a light thing to be considered. For those who have experienced it, there is nothing sweeter than knowing that we are reconciled with our Creator. To sit in awe of His self-sacrificial love is to lead us from one point of joy to another. But this forgiveness is granted only to those who are able to admit their need for a Savior. Such an admission reveals the reality of God’s demand for perfection and our natural inability to keep. In short, we must admit we are a sinner, and believe in Christ for our right standing with God. Nothing else will do. No work. No volunteering. No cheery disposition. Either the blood of Christ shall satisfy the justice of God in your stead, or His justice will be demanded of you.
May the Lord lead you to consider these words carefully today “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” and that you “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:17-19 ESV).