Believe it or not, God puts his grace and mercy on display by pointing out sin

Believe it or not, God puts his grace and mercy on display by pointing out sin. In Jonah 4, God comes to Jonah and says,

…“Do you do well to be angry?””

(Jon 4:4)

In other words, God asks Jonah: What right do you have to be angry at Me saving the Ninevites? Do you see what God is doing? He is pointing out Jonah’s sin. He is revealing his heart.

Not the first time

This isn’t the first time God has pointed out the sin of another. Way back at the beginning of the Bible is the story of Cain and Abel. Cain and Abel both brought God a sacrifice. God accepted Abel’s instead of Cain’s. This made Cain angry. God seeing Cain’s anger comes to him and says,

“The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

(Gen 4:6–7)

God is extending grace and mercy to Cain by pointing out his sin and the consequences of it. If you continue through the story, you find Cain doesn’t rule over his sin. He allows it to attack and rule over him. He eventually rises up against his brother and kills him. Cain ends up banished from his people forever. I’d like to think God’s words to Jonah would have made a connection back to this story in Jonah’s mind, just as it should for us.

When God points out sin, it is an act of grace and mercy.

God could have left Jonah to stew in his own sin but God doesn’t do that. Instead, He extends grace and mercy by pointing out Jonah’s sin.

God could allow us to stew in our sin, but He doesn’t. He brings others into our lives to point out our sin, so the next time your spouse, neighbor, coworker, or friend points out your sin, praise God for His grace and mercy instead of getting angry with them. The next time you are reading a book and God’s uses its message to point out your sin, praise God for His grace and mercy and keep reading instead of throwing it down. The next time a song or sermon reveals your sin, praise God for His grace and mercy and keep listening instead of tuning out.

Our God is a gracious and merciful God and He puts His grace and mercy on display when He points out our sin.

What happens when we believe God’s grace is earned and not freely given?

The book of Jonah highlights Jonah’s journey to preach to Nineveh. After running from the Lord, Jonah eventually ends up in Nineveh, but his heart is not completely right. After reaching Nineveh, Jonah preaches to them and his worst fear comes true, God saves Nineveh. God doesn’t just save one or two of them. He saves the entire city. One of the greatest revivals in history happens right there in Nineveh.

How does Jonah respond?

“O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

(Jon 4:2)

Clearly, Jonah’s emotions are out of control. He is angry at God and feels he has been treated unfairly. All because God saved the Ninevites. If you think about it, that is quite a peculiar reaction.

But before you are too hard on Jonah and think you could never react like him. Consider for a moment the emotions you might feel if a terrorist suddenly repented and turned to the Lord. On the one hand, you might rejoice because you know their terrorist activities would stop.

But on the other hand, you might be upset, you might find it hard to rejoice and praise God because you think they didn’t get what they deserve — the full brunt of God’s wrath.

Or bringing it even closer to home. Consider how you would react if someone who brutally murdered a family member met Jesus on death row. Before they could carry out the death penalty, they came to know the Lord. How would you react? Would you find it hard to rejoice with them? To praise God for saving another soul from the fires of hell? Would you be upset because you don’t feel like true justice was served?

Resentment

If we aren’t careful, we can end up resenting the Father because we don’t get what we think we are owed. Maybe we believe we are owed recognition, wealth, prosperity, and an easy marriage. When we don’t get those things, we resent God because we think He is being unfair.

But when we act that way, we show we misunderstand the gospel. We have it wrong if we think God’s grace is earned. God’s grace is not earned it is freely given. It’s crucial we know God’s grace is freely given because if we believe God’s grace is earned, we will also believe God owes us for our faithful service. When God doesn’t pay up, we will resent Him. As well as if we believe God’s grace is earned, we won’t be able to celebrate when someone who we believe doesn’t deserve God’s grace gets it.

It’s crucial we understand God’s grace is freely given and it is given to those who don’t deserve it. If we don’t understand that, we are going to resent God for not giving us what we think we are owed for our faithful service.

Here is the odd thing.

The more we faithfully serve the greater the temptation becomes to resent God for not giving us what we think we are owed for faithfully serving Him.

The Gospel is the Only Thing that Can Change Us, Not Self-Help

I don’t know about you but I love books. Over the years I have amassed quite a collection. Not near as many as some of my friends, but I’d say it is a healthy collection.

As most book lovers do, I love bookstores. I can spend hours in a bookstore just looking. My wife used to come along, but it’s gotten to the point now that she refuses to go to a bookstore with me because she knows I will be in there forever.

One of the things I like to do when I am at the bookstore is peruse the self-help and spirituality sections. Not because I am interested in buying any of those books, but because I want to know what others are buying. What they believe will make difference in their lives.

In these sections you will find all kinds of books. Books that promise to help you:

  • Win Friends and Influence People
  • To become a Highly Effective Person
  • Stop Worrying and Start Living
  • Gain Happiness
  • To lead people
  • To fulfill your dreams in life

The list can go on and on.

While all these books promise to help you in these areas, I don’t believe they can ultimately drive the change they promise. Nor can they fix the mess this nation is in. That’s because these books focus on the self. They attempt to pull the best you out of you.

What is inherently wrong with that idea is that we are all broken people. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, we have experienced corruption. Because we are corrupted to our core, we cannot rise above in and of ourselves. We can’t uncorrupt ourselves no matter how many books we read, seminars we attend, or life coaches we hire. Self-help is a falsity.

If these books and the ideas behind them can’t change people and fix our nation, what can? The gospel — the good news that God sent a Messiah, who is Jesus. Jesus not only pays the penalty for our rebellion, but He also creates a new humanity that can experience freedom from corruption. Jesus saves us and changes us. He gives us hope.

When God awakens us to our sin, we shouldn’t despair

Yes, our sin hinders our relationship with God, but we shouldn’t despair – we shouldn’t feel hopeless. In the beginning of Jonah 2:4, we learn that Jonah feels as if he has been…

“‘…driven away from [God’s] sight;’”

(Jon 2:4a)

The word Jonah uses for “driven” carries the idea of being forced out, to be forced away from. It’s what I do to our dog when he comes in the kitchen while I’m preparing food. I drive him out of the kitchen back to his bed.

As Jonah is sinking down to his watery grave, Jonah felt as if he was forced out of God’s sight. But even though Jonah felt that way, he didn’t despair. In the remainder of verse 4, he says,

“yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’”

(Jon 2:4b)

The reason Jonah didn’t despair, the reason Jonah wasn’t hopeless, even though he felt like he had been driven from the Lord, was because he knew the Lord was a God of loyal love. Because God is a God of loyal love, we can turn back to the Lord through repentance.

The same is true for us. While our sin hinders our relationship with God, we can always turn to Him because He is a God of loyal love. You haven’t messed up so big that you are driven from God’s sight forever. You can repair your relationship by repenting. That’s exactly what we should do when we discover we have sinned against God.

When God awakens us to our sin, we should repent, turning back to the Lord.

We should repent, turning back to the Lord even though we might feel as if we have been driven from God’s presence because God loves us and wants what’s best for us.

Idols can’t save

Near the end of my college career at the beginning of my professional career, I got a credit card. I thought it would be a good way for me to build credit for any future purchases I might need to make like buying a house.

At first, I was good about paying it off. But little by little I began to carry debt on that card. The more debt I amassed the more my monthly payment became. Eventually, I had amassed so much debt I was barely making the monthly interest payment. But I kept on spending.

Now I didn’t let things get too out of control. I was in sales. Whenever I would get a big bonus, I would pay down my debt. Over the years, I would yo-yo between debt and paying it off. Back and forth, back and forth I would go. That is until I met Jen. At the time, Jen was much more financially responsible. She didn’t carry debt on her credit cards. She paid them off every month.

When we got engaged, she told me she wanted me to pay off my debt before we got married. I had to buckle down. I couldn’t keep buying. Racking up the credit card debt. Thankfully, the Lord blessed me with several deals that provided enough bonus money to pay off my debt before we married. Since then, Jen and I have never carried any debt on our credit card. We pay it off at the end of each month.

Reflecting back on my time in debt, the reason I kept spending was that I thought another experience or another possession would satisfy me.“If I just did that or had this, I would be good,” I thought. But nothing ever satisfied, which is why I had so much debt.

Idols can’t deliver on their promises. They can’t provide us with ultimate joy and satisfaction. They can’t save us. God wants us to understand that — Idols can’t save instead they leave us empty. If we hold on to them, if we cling to them, they will eventually lead us to death. Not just physical death, but eternal death.

Pastor, please the Lord, not self or man.

”For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thess 2:3-4)

True workmen for the Lord do not have ulterior motives. They should not be greedy. Their desire should not be to amass wealth, status, or position off the backs of those they are to serve and to whom they are to preach the good news. One should not enter ministry for riches or acclaim.

Ministers are entrusted with the gospel. They are speak the truth in love, not to please man, but to please God. Here in lies the difficulty. God is our boss/master not man. Sometimes those two are at odds. When they are at odds with one another, our default should not be to please man, rather our default should be to please God, trusting He will care for us.

Pastor, why do you preach? Why do you serve? Is it for your own gain or the gain of others? Do you trust God to provide or do you fear man? As Pastors, we serve an audience of One (God) to the pleasure of many (the congregation). Our focus must always be on pleasing the Lord not self or man.