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.

We don’t have a pretty past, praise God for our present

“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5)

We do not have a pretty past. Before Paul pens these words he paints a picture of us. Telling us we were foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to all kinds of passions and pleasures. If that wasn’t bad enough, we learn we were full of malice, envy, and hate for one another. The picture of our past is not pretty.

It is important we understand who we once were. If we forget, we might believe we were worth saving. That it was our righteousness that wooed God into giving himself for us. But then again those who are righteous don’t need saving. Those, however, who are unrighteous do — that’s you and me. We are unrighteous people who need the righteousness of Jesus. We need to be changed, to be washed, to be renewed, to be regenerated. We need saving, not because we are righteous but because we are unrighteous.

We have not gained salvation any other way and for any other reason than our God is a God of mercy who doesn’t give us what we deserve. When we think of salvation like that, we should be driven to worship and praise God for what He has done for us.

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.

By the Grace of God, you are a gift for Jesus’ glory

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,” (2 Thess 1:11)

We need the prayers of the saints for our growth. As believers, we are to look after and encourage one another. We should desire to see the best for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. What could be better than their growth in Christlikeness.

Becoming more like Christ means we become more like the people God originally designed us to be. When we live according to God’s designed, life generally goes well for us. Even if we experience difficulties such as persecution or set back, we can have joy. Joy because we have hope. Hope for a future when we will see Jesus in all His glory. Joy because even in the difficulties we are able to accomplish our purpose in life, which is to glorify God. In verse 12, Paul reveals the end to which he prays,

“so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 1:12)

The end is Jesus glory in us and us in Him. Jesus is ultimately glorified in us, not by our work, but by the grace of God. In this way, we are a gift to Jesus for His glory. What a privilege it is to be used by the Creator of the world, the King over all, the All Sovereign Lord as a gift to His Son for His glory and our own.

How Should Christians Handle Conflict?

Christianity is unique in that it brings people together from all walks of life to live in community with one another. While our hearts have been changed, we are still sinners, which means we are bound to experience conflict with one another. How we handle that conflict is important because it often means the difference between ongoing fights that throw us off mission or increased unity that brings us together on mission for Christ.

How Should Christians Handle Conflict?

(1) We have to address conflict quickly.

In Genesis 13 a conflict arises between Abraham and Lot’s shepherds over the land allotted for their livestock.

“And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” (Ge 13:5–8)

After realizing there was a conflict between his shepherds and Lot’s, Abraham goes to Lot right away. He doesn’t let it stew. He doesn’t start a family feud by telling his men to fight back. He doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, he addressed the conflict soon after he found out it was happening.

We are to do the same. In fact, the urgency with which we handle conflict should be of top priority. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 5:23-24 when He says,

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23–24)

Jesus’ words tell us that God takes unresolved conflict seriously, so seriously that if you are at the altar about to sacrifice and you remember that your brother has something against you, you are to leave the altar, presumably your sacrifice as well, to go reconcile with him. Only once you have sought reconciliation, should you come back and move forward with your worship.

Conflict should not only be dealt with quickly because it hinders our worship, it should also be dealt with quickly because it hinders our witness to the community.  In verse 7 of Genesis 13, there is what seems like an unremarkable statement about the Canaanites and Perizzites living in the land. That statement, however, is important. Its inclusion reminds us that the world is watching. They see how we interact with one another. What they see may help or hurt our witness. Think about it, if all the world sees in our churches is conflict and disunity, our witness to them about the power of the gospel to change lives will fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, if the world sees people who are loving and forgiving one another in ways that they would never think of doing, if they see people dealing with conflict well and are, for the most part, unified, they may begin to think there is actually something about the message we are proclaiming.

So for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of God, we need to deal with conflict when it arises. We can’t wait until sometime in the distant future or just hope it will disappear. We must deal with it quickly if we want our worship and witness to be God honoring.

(2) We have to approach the other person in a tender, gracious, and loving manner.

Notice how Abraham approaches Lot in verse 8. He says,

“Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” (Ge 13:8)

I quoted verse 8 out of the ESV, but if you read it in the NASB or NKJV verse 8 begins with the word “Please”, so that Abraham says, “Please let there be…”. I believe the translators chose to include “please” to emphasize the manner in which Abraham approached Lot. He didn’t go at him in a harsh, domineering, or aggressive way. Instead, he appeals to him in a tender, gracious, and loving manner.

Like Abraham, we have to approach others in a tender, gracious, and loving manner if we want to de-escalate the situation and work towards a resolution.

So while we should handle conflict quickly, we must also choose our approach and words carefully. If we don’t, things can quickly escalate or get worse, even if that wasn’t our intention.

(3) We have to be willing to stand down, even taking a loss for the sake of our relationship.

After Abraham approaches Lot, he says in verse 9,

“Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”” (Ge 13:9)

Of course, this means that Abraham is giving Lot the opportunity to pick the best land for himself. Certainly, Abraham knew this could result in a loss. A loss that he didn’t have to take. God had given him the land, not Lot. He could have told his nephew where to go, but he didn’t. Instead, he was willing to stand down, even willing to take a loss for the sake of their relationship.

Taking a loss for the sake of our relationship might seem radical, but in doing so, we are modeling the gospel. Starting in Philippians 2:4 we read,

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Php 2:4–8)

You see, Jesus took a loss for us. He died a death He didn’t have to die. He did so to pay the penalty for our sins so that we might have a restored relationship with the Father and everlasting life.

We must, as Paul tells us, have the mind of Christ. We must not only look out for our own interests but for the interests of others as well. So following in the footsteps of Jesus, we should be willing to stand down, even to take a loss for the sake of another and our relationship with them.

Of course, doing so goes against all that is natural to us. As one commentator says,

“The world’s way of getting ahead is to look out for number one, but God’s way is to look up to number one and to be a blessing to others.” [1]

As Christians, we not only have the example but the power to be a blessing to others by taking a loss because we have been changed by the gospel. As well as we have God’s promise to provide for all our needs. The latter half of Matthew 6 comes to minds. In verse 31, Jesus says,

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mt 6:31–33)

When we believe God’s promise to care for our needs, we are freed to be generous even to take a loss because we know that God is in control and He will provide for us.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you handle conflict?
  2. Are you willing to take a loss for the sake of resolving conflict?
  3. Are God’s glory and your witness foremost when you consider dealing with conflict in your relationships?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon: Do Our Choices Matter?

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/17-tale-two-men-genesis-135-18 

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“Of Whom I am the Worst”, John Newton and Amazing Grace

John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace” was written from personal experience, for Newton himself was among the worst of sinners. At the age of eleven, he took to the sea, where he had many adventures: he was press-ganged into the navy; he was captured and flogged for desertion; he despaired almost to the point of suicide. Eventually, Newton became a slave-trader, a hard and wretched man. But he was shown mercy. As he feared for his life in stormy seas, he threw himself on the grace of God, which he found in abundance. Later he testified, “How wonderful is the love of God in giving his Son to die for such wretches!”

Even after he was saved, Newton continued to confess his need of God’s amazing grace. He wrote in one of his letters, “In defiance of my best judgment and best wishes, I find something within me which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should if a toad or a serpent was put in my food or in my bed. Ah! how vile must the heart (at least my heart) be.” Newton did not despair, however. Before closing the letter, he quoted Paul’s words to Timothy: “I embrace it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

Every Christian knows how to complete Newton’s quotation in the quietness of a believing heart: “of whom I am the worst.”

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you see yourself as the worst of sinners?

Resources

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This post is an extended quote by Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 29.