The Goodness and Severity of God
"Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. " Romans 11: 22.
People seem perplexed these days about which preachers they ought to listen to: those that emphasize the goodness (sometimes translated "mercy") of God or those that emphasize the severity of God. In what Paul was teaching to the Christians who lived in Rome, he wasn't talking about either/or: He respected both.
The Goodness of God. Scripture is so complete in describing the goodness and mercy of God. He created man in a way that endowed man with all kinds of abilities. Man could sing--including singing praises to God, if he only would (see Colossians 3: 16, 17, or Ephesians 5: 18). He could use his voice to pray to God (see also Matthew 6: 1-15, Matthew 7: 7-11, and I Timothy 2: 1-3) if man would only take the time to. He could use his hands to explore God's universe and to earn a living and to help his fellowman. He could use his feet to travel and explore the world, knowing that wherever he went, he would never go to a place where God could not be (Psalms 139: 7-16).
God created man in his own image (Genesis 1: 26); in this way, mankind was unique, for no other creature was created after God's image. Man had such a close relationship to God while in the garden of Eden that he even knew what God's footsteps sounded like (Genesis 3: 8). God and man were close friends. Then sin entered into the situation and God had to make some changes.
The Severity of God. It seems to often escape us as humans that God is a pure God with whom there is absolutely no evil. See James 1: 13-16--"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16Do not err, my beloved brethren. 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. 18Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." It may be a little-known fact that there is something that God cannot do--that He cannot lie (Titus 1: 2). At Mount Sinai when the Old Law was about to be given, even the animal that un-invitedly touched the mountain where God was was to be stoned. God is pure and undefiled; man has clothed himself with sin. This is true of all people of accountable age. The scripture says "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17And the way of peace have they not known: 18There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3: 10-18, King James version.).
"The soul that sinneth, it shall die" declared God in Ezekiel 18: 4, also in 20. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," said God in Romans 6: 23. Finally there is a glimmer of hope!
Through Christ, God and man would not have to go their separate ways. There was a way to pay for the debt of sin that each of us would generate. In brief John 3: 16 says it: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." What does it mean to believe?
See what the first Christians did when they believed! Their belief, their saving faith was not just a mental assent that God existed; it was an active faith. They did things. You can read about it in Acts 2: 37-47. Or in Acts 8: 26-40, or Acts 16: 30-34. They heard God's word (Acts 2: 37), believed it (Acts 2: 42, 44), repented of their sins (Acts 2: 38), confessed their faith in Jesus as Lord (Acts 2: 38, Acts 8: 37), and were baptized (Acts 2: 38, 41; Acts 8: 38-39; Acts 16: 33). There is no record in any of the scriptures of anyone who wanted to follow Christ being told to simply hear and believe. All who turned to Jesus heard, believed, and were baptized. In some passages the other steps of repenting and confessing Jesus as Lord are more explicit than others. Also see the conversion of Cornelious in Acts 10: 34-48 and of Saul in Acts 22: 6-16. There is 100 percent consistency there in those conversions.
The goodness or mercy of God is that He allows this obedience--hearing, believing, confessing of Jesus as Lord, repenting, being baptized--to be enough to allow us to begin our walk with Him. None of that is worth enough or is compelling enough to make God accept us. But because of His love, and because He loved us so much that He sent his Son to die to pay the price for our sins, that God is able to accept our meager works as being enough. They aren't enough, but He accepts them as being enough. This doesn't mean that when man puts on Christ in baptism (Galatians 3: 27) that he has done anything to earn his way to Heaven.
When man, acting in belief that God will take away his sins, is baptized into Christ, all sins are forgiven. ALL of them. Don't continue worrying about things that have been forgiven. That kind of worry is not the kind of repentance God wanted man to have (II Corinthians 7: 9-11) .
Now that the Christian is forgiven of his past sins, does that mean that he can go back to his sinful ways and live like he did before? No. See Romans 6: 1-11. But what if he does sin, now that he is a Christian? Following the example of Simon in Acts 8: 9-24 and the command to confess our sins to one another as Christians and to pray for one another (James 5: 16), when any of us falls away from the Lord--"falls from grace" as Galatians 5: 4 puts it--we are to be restored, as Galatians 6: 1, 2 describes it.
In looking at both the goodness and the severity of God, this is how God has chosen to put all of this together. If we really believe Him, we will do what He asked us to do in order to be pleasing to Him. If we don't really believe Him we will try to come up with some other way on our own.
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