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Extravagant Grace

Greetings All!

     Today's 'thought' could have been written by me (the first part at least)!  For it sounds very similar to conversations I've had with people who see the God of the Old Testament as somehow being different from the God of the New Testament -- as if God's nature changed between the Testaments!  The extreme example of this was Marcion (85-160 A.D.) who not only deleted the Old Testament from his Bible, but all the verses from the Old Testament that were quoted by the authors of the New Testament! (By the way 25.5% of the material in the New Testament is quotations of the Old Testament.)  He had a very small Bible!   This particular entry is found in the book, "Extravagant Grace" edited by Traci Mullins. It was written by Marilyn Meberg.  I offer it for your consideration.  Enjoy.
     "Not long ago a woman named Betty corralled me after a conference and confided: 'You know what I just love about the God of the New Testament?  He's just so much more pleasant than that one in the Old Testament.  What I mean is, the modern God is so much more liberal...  I mean liberal about the sin stuff and everything. You know that woman at the well that Jesus was chatting with? You know, the one who moved through husbands like cheesecake?  Well, Jesus was so nice about all that.  And then of course there's that woman doing you know what right in the middle of the day.  And Jesus didn't even have a fit about it!  I love that about him!'
     I wonder if Betty's sentiments are more common than we might think. Quite frankly, I understand right where she's coming from. Sunday school, church, and vacation Bible school were all a part of my life as I grew up, and I can vividly remember thinking that the stories I heard about how God wiped out whole cities, including women and children, was scary. I was convinced he was powerful, but never in a million years would I believe he was pleasant.  As I grew older I decided not to read the Old Testament at all.  If I were to be perfectly honest, I thought God was arrogant, narrow-minded, and barbaric. Of course, I never admitted that to a living soul, and I certainly didn't tell God!  I didn't want to risk being struck by a plague!
     During my junior year at Seattle Pacific University I had one of those 'aha' moments in the middle of Dr. Demaray's class on evangelism. He pointed out that in the Old Testament God was graphically illustrating his utter intolerance of sin. That's why those people who lived in total disobedience were wiped out. The law was: You sin, you're warned, you don't heed the warning, you die!  Dr. Demaray went on to explain that when Jesus became the embodiment of the world's sin, God, who cannot tolerate sin, turned momentarily away, thus provoking the anguished cry, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' It wasn't that God's heart was indifferent to the death of his Son; he simply cannot compromise his holiness by even looking upon sin.
     It began to make more sense to me why God seemed so inflexible about sinful people, but it still made him a bit scary. It took a few more years for me to finally fit the Old Testament God and the New Testament God into one integrated, harmonious whole. That all happened when I joined a Bible study on the book of Romans and finally learned the meaning of justification...  Romans 5:1 states, 'Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.'   Chuck Swindoll clearly defines this extravagant gift of justification through God's grace.  'It is the sovereign act of God whereby he declares righteous the believing sinner while still in his sinning state. It doesn't mean that the believing sinner stops sinning. It doesn't even mean the believing sinner is made righteous in the sense of suddenly becoming perpetually perfect. The sinner is declared righteous. God sovereignly bestows the gift of eternal life on the sinner at the moment he believes and thereby declares him righteous while the sinner still lives a life marked by periodic sinfulness.  God takes the guilty, believing sinner who says, 'I am lost, unworthy, guilty as charged, and undeserving of forgiveness' and extends the gift of eternal life because Christ's death on the cross satisfied His demands against sin, namely death. And God sees the guilty sinner (who comes by faith alone) as righteous as He sees His own Son."
     Do you realize what that means?  Even though we still sin and often can''t seem to stop, God declared us righteous when we believed and received Jesus. And because the sin thing stays with us like onions after lunch, we desperately need God's grace. We deserve to be overtaken by locusts, but instead we're embraced by forgiveness and miraculously accepted as righteous by the very God who will not tolerate wrongdoing of any kind!  I realize now that without knowing God's utter intolerance of sin, I could never begin to appreciate how incredible is the grace with which he embraces me.  The God of the Old Testament is the same God who ordained the Cross of forgiveness and grace. Someone needs to explain that to Betty."
     As a pastor I too have wrestled with some of the things God commanded in the Old Testament. They do seem harsh. And I have struggled seeing Jesus ("who is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of God's being" - Hebrews 1:3) carrying them out.  Yet I have never embraced the Marcion heresy of thinking there were "two different God's"  -- the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New.  Few truths stand out with more clarity than the declaration of God in Malachi 3:6, where He says, "I am the LORD, I do not change."  In fact, given the biblical understanding of God as Triune (one God indivisibly manifest in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) the same truth is stated by the author of Hebrews when he states that, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever"  (13:8).  The issue is not whether God in His essential nature changes (an impossibility according to God's own declaration in Scripture). But whether the God who is consistently and unchangeably the same changes His approach to sinners in light of the Cross.
     We live now in the Church age, or the epoch of grace, where mercy is being offered to the nations through the proclamation of the Gospel.  But we must remember that it's mercy offered in light of the wrath to come. For the Bible makes it clear that after the Gospel has been preached to all nations the end will come, and then God's wrath against sin will be exercised upon all who have not sought the shelter from it that He offers in Christ (Isaiah 61:2, I Thessalonians 1:10, I Thessalonians 5:1-3, II Thessalonians 1:5-10).  After all, if there is no coming day of wrath, there is no reason to seek shelter in Christ, and nothing that anyone really needs to be saved from. Such a belief would make the Gospel completely irrelevant.
     The Bible makes it clear that all sin will be punished. For believers it was punished in Jesus on the cross, but for those who reject Christ, it will be punished in them.  For the Gospel offer is not simply, "grace from now on, for all, forever."  It is, "grace for all who will come to Christ now, for the day of wrath (or judgment) is coming"  (Isaiah 61:2, II Corinthians 5:16-6:2).  People sometimes forget that the book of Revelation, which brings the New Testament to a close (and speaks of what will happen when the time of God's favor is finished), looks very "Old-Testament-like."
     So, it is true: God has not changed.  As a Holy God He always has, and always will, oppose and punish sin. And as a loving God He offers Christ to rescue from the coming wrath all who will trust in Him.  For those who are in Christ by faith their sin has already been punished. They are saved from the wrath to come (I Thess. 1:10). But for those who persist in their unbelief and refuse God's loving offer of grace in Christ, each day that passes draws them closer to the day (when if they continue to persist in that unbelief) they will experience His wrath in themselves. That's why we pray, and preach, and share the Gospel. As Marilyn Meberg writes: "The God of the Old Testament is the same God who ordained the Cross of forgiveness and grace.  Someone needs to explain that to Betty."

In the Service of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff