In Adult Bible Study last Sunday, June 6, in our class on “Characters of the Bible”, I taught on Noah. The people of Noah’s time are described in this way, “5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5) As my wife says, “Things were REALLY bad!” Yet Noah was described as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Genesis 6:8) Somehow, Noah separated himself from the sin of his day.
So, I asked the class this question. “How can God’s people seek to live righteous lives, and at the same time reach out to the whole world with the love and forgiveness of God?” In many ways this is an impossible task for us. My experience is that either God’s children become judgmental and self-righteous, or we become permissive.” Jesus prays for us because we are “in the world, but not of the world.” (John 17:13-16) But our call to live in righteousness, yet to reach out with forgiveness is, to a certain extent, impossible for sinners like us.
In my devotions on Wednesday, June 9, two of my readings touched on the topic of my question to the class. Even though we struggle with being both righteous and mercifully forgiving, God does not struggle. Part of my devotions right now are readings from Deuteronomy, and Wednesday I read chapter 4:25-31. God has called His people to righteousness, to faithfully worship only the true Lord of all, to worship and serve only Him. He tells them that, when they sin, they will find themselves in exile and that they will end up worshiping idols that cannot “hear or see or smell.” (Deuteronomy 4:28) Obviously such ‘gods’ are not real and cannot help. Yet, in spite of the fact that God’s people have sinned and rejected Him, He will not reject His people. These are God’s Deuteronomy words of grace and forgiveness. “29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. 31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31). God is righteous and forgiving, even if we struggle with both callings.
The Gospel reading for my devotions on Wednesday was the well-known parable of The Prodigal Son, or perhaps better titled, The Forgiving Father. (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) You perhaps know that in this parable, in this story with a lesson, Jesus tells of two sons and a father. The youngest son asks for his inheritance while the dad is living. Then he leaves and squanders this gift. In essence this younger son tells his dad, “I love your money more than I love you. I wish you were dead. But since you’re still living, please give me my money now.” When the younger son falls on poverty and rough times, he returns home. The oldest son is angry and will not receive this sinful, younger brother. Sometimes, unfortunately, Christians act that way. But, by contrast the Father welcomes his wayward son home with loving arms. Paul Thielicke writes, “We must read and hear this gospel story as it was really meant to be: good news! News so good that we should never have imagined it. New that would stagger us if we were able to hear it for the first time as a message that everything about God is so completely different from what we thought or feared. New that He has sent His Son to us and is inviting us to share in an unspeakable joy!” (For All the Saints, Volume II, page 88.)
We struggle with our Lord’s call to live righteously, on the one hand. In fact, we all fail in this effort because of our wandering, sinful hearts. But, if we nevertheless do seek to live in righteousness, even unsuccessfully, we also then struggle with our Lord’s call to act in mercy and forgiveness. But, WHERE WE FAIL, GOD SUCCEEDS! God sent His Son who was born a human being, and who did live a righteous life. Jesus, this holy Son of God, who had no sin of His own to pay for, surprisingly died to pay for the sin of the whole world, for our sin. This loving Son of God then rose from the dead defeating sin, and death, and hell, and He offers eternal life to all who believe in Him. In Jesus God is both holy and forgiving!!!
Back to that question I asked in my Bible Class about Noah last Sunday: “How can God’s people seek to live righteous lives, and at the same time reach out to the whole world with the love and forgiveness of God?” We do so as we focus on our Savior, on Jesus! God does call us to live holy lives, but even in our best efforts we fail. Because of our failure, we need a forgiving Savior. Thankfully, our Loving and Forgiving Father has reached out to us and saved us in Jesus. So, the best answer to that question about how to live holy lives and to also act with mercy. is that we do so with our eyes on Jesus, and we reach out to others as fellow sinners who have found God’s mercy in our Savior.
My favorite fictional pastor, Jan’ Karon’s Father Tim, often said, “If you keep your eyes on God’s people you will always be disappointed. But, if you keep your eyes on GOD, you will never be disappointed.” I pray that the unbelievable love and mercy of our merciful and forgiving Lord, moves you to want to serve Him with lives of humble obedience, and unbelievable mercy!