Saturday, August 16, 2008

God Is Patient

Each year I attempt to read through the Bible using the One Year Bible. I generally switch translation from year to year to get a different flavor and perhaps increase my understanding of the scripture by reading it from a different translator's perspective.

This year I have been using the New Living Translation, and while I have found it to be very readable, I have also noticed in a number of places that the translators took quite a bit of license with the text. This has soured me somewhat on the translation, but there are still moments where I find that the translation was quite well turned.

One example came up recently as I have been reading through Romans. I really like the way that they rendered verse 4 of chapter 2.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?
Romans 2:4 NLT

As I read this familiar verse in this translation, I began to see why it is that the wicked often seem to go unpunished in this life. God is being kind, tolerant, and patient with them to give them the chance to repent.

Back shortly after I got out of college, I had a debate with a friend over a statement from another friend that I had repeated. I had quoted my friend to say "God is patient with our sin."

My other friend took exception to this and a great debate raged for several weeks over the statement. I wish that I could remember the finer points of his argument now - that has been more years ago than I care to admit - but I come back to my original position after reading this verse.

(As I continue to ponder our debate, as so often is the case in these arguments, our position was basically the same but the argument was over semantics.)

So, I declare that God is patient with our sin. But what does this really mean? Am I saying that it is OK for us to sin because God is patient? As the King James version would say, "God forbid!" That is not what I am saying at all. Am I saying that we shouldn't be concerned about our sin because God is patient? Once again, God forbid!

God is patient with our sin to give us the time to turn from it. His heart's desire is that we repent - make a 180° turn from our sin towards Him. When we do that we receive His forgiveness and the sin is wiped away.

Why would God be patient with our sin? Why would He tolerate it? I believe that one answer to that question is that God knows how dreadful His wrath and judgment are. Anyone who hasn't gotten a grip on what God's judgment would be like would do well to read Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God." As Hebrews 10:31 says, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Consider the physical punishment that Jesus endured for our salvation, and then make it eternal. From what I have read and heard even that doesn't come close to the torment that those in hell suffer. God doesn't want anyone to be thrown into hell. That is why Jesus came, and that is why He suffered as greatly as He did. However, the scriptures clearly teach that while His offer of salvation is available to all, all will not receive salvation. Many will stubbornly continue in their rebellion against God and will receive hell as their reward.

If you read the writings of the prophets in the Bible, you will see God's patience displayed over and over again. God sent Jeremiah to the people of Judah repeatedly - right up to their destruction by Babylon - urging them to repent, knowing that they never would. The message that He gave them was that if they would repent He would forgive - even though their sins were as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore. Such mercy is astounding to me.

(Please notice, however, that there came a time when that patience was exceeded, and judgment came.)

Many go on blithely sinning, saying, "God doesn't care" or "God doesn't see." They think that because He hasn't acted in His wrath and because He hasn't judged them as the scriptures say that He will that they are OK and that God doesn't have a problem with what they are doing. They couldn't be more wrong. The very next verse in Romans says that they are "storing up wrath for themselves."

Some, whose conscience hasn't been completely seared attempt to justify their sin through partial obedience. I am reminded of the kingdom of Israel after they rebelled against David's dynasty. King Jeroboam built two idols and declared that the people would worship before them instead of returning to Jerusalem to worship at the temple.

In spite of their idolatry the people retained many elements of the law. They still tithed, they still had the festivals, they still did sacrifice. In their minds they were still following the Law, but God saw it quite differently. Their partial obedience did not bring them any favor with God, it merely set into motion the day in which He would execute vengeance on the country.

I believe for many the issue of homosexual marriage is an attempt to do the same thing. They think that if they obey the law on one hand it makes it OK to break it on the other. This is a grievous error - one, I fear, that will bring great judgment.

For those who are Christians, I believe God's patience takes a little different flavor. God knows us so well. He knows exactly why we sin the way we do. He understands the woundings of our soul that cause us to act the way we do, and He will stop at nothing to heal us. God works to heal our wounds and deliver us from our bondage to sin.

What is the correct response to our sin during this time? I think Romans 7:24-25 gives us a pretty good idea. We are to recognize our wretched state and cry out in faith to God for deliverance and mercy.

Are we to make peace with our sin? Never! We are to loathe that which is not holy in us and we should wrestle against it with every ounce of our being until the Lord delivers us from it. Easier said than done, I know. But God never said that it would be easy.

So, in the meantime, I am grateful for God's patience as I struggle with my fears, anger, and perversions, longing for the day when I will finally be healed and set free. And I am grateful for His grace that gives me victory over my flesh. I hope that you will allow God's kindness to lead you to repentance.

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