2016-3-13 The Kindness and Severity of God

ROMANS 11:13-22 (ESV)                                                                           MARCH 13, 2016


Throughout life we can easily fall into a trap and see only one side of a situation. How often do we rush to judgment, only to discover that we did not have the whole story? This has happened to me more times than I care to remember. This potential trap especially applies to our relationships with individuals. I try to not make rash decisions about people, yet I still fail. It can take a long time to know a person really well and still after decades we can be surprised. Knowing a person well takes time and effort to find out all we can. The more I learn about a person’s past history enables me to gain a clearer picture. This is also true with how we view God. The more we learn of God’s interaction with people and especially with his covenant people the more insight I gain about God’s character.

When we started this series I asked you to write down how you would describe God to someone else. I saw a few of these and what I saw most was God described as a loving Father. This description is true as far as it goes. However, listen to the descriptive words used about God that were used by Paul. Romans 11:22 (ESV) “Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.” The NIV uses the words “kindness and sternness” in describing God. Other translations use the word goodness in place of kindness. What I hope you notice was that Paul did not simply use one word in his description but he used two contrasting aspects which together give a more balanced view of God.

When we choose to only look at one aspect of God’s character we will end up with a distorted view. If we see only the goodness and kindness of God we will end up with thinking of God as a cosmic Santa Claus, who only gives good gifts regardless of the problems brought about by our sinfulness. This view has a weak view of the atonement of Christ as God does not send people to hell and focuses solely on what God will do for us. If one looks only at the sternness of God we end up in despair as we never deserve God’s gracious gifts of forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

Listen to the words of God when he describes himself to Moses. Exodus 34:5-7 (NIV) 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.”  God provided a much more comprehensive and complete picture of his character. God spoke of his goodness and his righteous judgment of wickedness, rebellion, and sin.

God is good to all people. Jesus told the people how God is good to all. In Matthew 5:45 (NIV) “45 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”Psalm 145:9 (NIV) 9 The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” This idea is called common grace. God’s grace that is common for all people. Psalm 145:15-16 (NIV) 15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. 16 You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” All good things come from the LORD. All humanity should acknowledge how God is good to all. Notice the goodness of God to those who recognize this truth. Psalm 145:18-20 (NIV) 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. 20 The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.” God is good, but there are consequences when people refuse to see the truth.

How do we put these two traits together? “God is good to all in some ways and to some in all ways.” (J. I. Packer, Knowing God) Because God is just and righteous in all his ways God must bring about his judgment on all wickedness. Whenever one acknowledges God and his Son we enter further into God’s goodness and kindness. Yet God has also made it clear that judgment comes whenever one continues to reject God and his Son, the Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV) 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” When one recognizes the goodness of God it leads people to repentance.

And the reverse is true. Paul told the Roman Christians that God would bring his wrath upon all the wickedness of this world. Paul warned the church not to render judgment upon other people, as it is God who judges and not man. Romans 2:3-4 (NIV) 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

As we keep in mind both the goodness and sternness of God; how are we to keep this balance? First, we should be a thankful people. God has provided us with so many good things. Like the hymn says: Count your blessings, name them one by one. Secondly, we should be grateful for God’s patience with us and with all people. I am especially grateful for God’s patience with me. Philippians 1:6 (NIV) 6 I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God doesn’t give up on us. Third, we should learn to be grateful that God disciplines us to bring us back to him whenever we stray. Hebrews 12:4-6 (NIV) 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

In Paul’s closing comments to the church in Galatia he combines both aspects of God’s goodness and severity. Galatians 6:7-10 (NIV) 7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

The Lord is loving and kind and also just in his judgments!

Let us pray.