Today's thought comes from a book I picked up to read for the second time while I was on vacation (the reason you haven't heard from me for a while)! The author is Jerry Sittser and the book's title is, "The Will of God as a Way of Life." Without question it is the best book I have ever read in the subject of God's will. Sittser is not only a biblical theologian, but also an avid historian who weaves his knowledge of both subjects together with great insight, wisdom and skill. It is a book one would do well to have on their shelf as a resource to turn to time and again.
This selection comes from the chapter entitled: Living in the Wonder of the Present Moment. It speaks of God's radical grace and the harm it does to us when we take advantage of it. I pass it along as both a comfort to the struggling, and a warning to those who may be in that place of presuming upon the grace they have received. Enjoy.
"We need God's grace to do his will. Without that, we remain prisoners to our past and future, dominated by regret and bitterness or by fear and worry. Grace changes everything. It draws us back to God, placing us at the center of his will, no matter what we have done or how bad the circumstances. No one is so sinful as to be beyond God's grace. We can be alcoholics, prostitutes, embezzlers, abusers, liars, or murderers. What we have done matters little; what God has done matters a great deal.
Once we turn to him in sincere repentance and faith, we become recipients of God's inexhaustible grace. Neither past sins, however regrettable, nor future circumstances, however unwanted, can cut us off from God's grace once we truly repent and turn to God. We could be sick from a lifetime of smoking, flat broke from bad investments, on trial for past crimes. It doesn't matter. The past is over, but God is alive and well. Once we turn to him we are immediately in the center of his will. God will begin that very moment to work redemption in our lives, writing a story that will end in triumph. He will bring the consequences of the past upon us in the form of a blessing. There is no place so distant from God that he is not present. There is no deed so bad that God cannot or will not forgive... God's grace is that radical.
But we must be wary of presumption. It is easy to take advantage of God's grace and put off doing his will. If grace is always available to me, we may think to ourselves, then why not continue to sin? If we can always return to God and do his will, no matter what we have done, then why be in a hurry to do his will in the first place? Why not just enjoy the pleasures of sin and turn to God at a more convenient time? How do we find motivation to do God's will if the threat of forever missing that will is removed?
There are two reasons why we should avoid presumption. First, presumption is spiritually dangerous. True, choosing to pursue a course of action contrary to God's will does not change his mind about us. God will always love us, always forgive us, and always welcome us home again, no matter how wayward we have been. But disobedience can change our minds about God. Spurning grace and disobeying God hardens the heart. Every time we disobey God, assuming that at some later time we can return to him, we will find it increasingly difficult to return at all. We will begin to doubt our own sincerity, lose our capacity to discern right from wrong, and question the authenticity of our own repentance. We will become like a lover who takes advantage of the goodness of his beloved so often that he loses all capacity to know what real love is.
In The Pilgrim's Progress the main character, Christian, visits Interpreter's House on his way to the Celestial City. There he is taught a parable about hardness of heart. He sees a man in an iron cage. This man despairs because he has sinned against God and does not believe God will forgive him. But God has not locked him in that cage of despair. He has locked himself in. He does not really despair of God, although that is what he claims; he despairs of himself. He has presumed on the grace and goodness of God once too often. God will forgive him, but he can no longer repent. Presumption is dangerous because it turns us away from God.
Second, presumption is foolish. As I tell my children, 'I will always love you because you are my children. That is what parents do.' But how I express that love depends on how they respond to my love. They can receive love the easy way, or they can receive it the hard way. If they choose to disobey me, they must face the consequences. They will have to go to their rooms, miss social activities with their friends, or do extra chores. My love for them will not change, but the way they experience it will. They will experience it as discipline..."