A lot of people today focus on God’s love. A little too much, actually. They think that because God loves them, they can do whatever they want, because He will forgive all of their sins and send everybody to Heaven. But we know from the Bible that this is not true. There is such a place as Hell, and while God may love us unconditionally, He forgives conditionally – forgiveness is granted on the condition that we cry out to Him in repentance and ask for it. The people who focus so much on how His love and mercy tend to forget that our loving God is also a God of justice. They forget that He is a jealous God, and that He has given us commands which we are to follow.
Then there are the people who focus too much on the God of justice. They are the modern-day Pharisees, focusing so much on outward appearances and trying to do everything right to please God and escape His wrath. But with their focus so much on deeds, they forget that God looks at the heart behind the deeds. Either they can become proud of themselves and look down on “those less holy than them,” or they can despise themselves. Sin is terrible to them – which is a good thing – but guilt can crush them, and they ever weigh themselves down with self-condemnation, wondering if they will ever be “good enough” to make God happy. These are the people who need to remember that while God is a God of justice, He is also a God of mercy and love, and that – so long as we are saved – we have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and nothing will ever separate us from His love.
I have been on both sides of this spectrum, and so I know how it feels to be in either position.
On one hand, I have been in times of temptation where I have thought to myself, “Well, I can always ask God for forgiveness later.” I know that sounds awful – and it is awful! But I can’t deny that I have had those thoughts cross my mind, and sometimes I have allowed them to guide me, and sometimes I have shoved them away. But the thought arises from the belief that, “Well, God loves me, and I know that His forgiveness is always there. So for now, I can do what I want.”
But what does the Bible say?
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 NKJV).
Then there have been times when I have become so weighed down with guilt over my sin that I have felt unworthy to come before the Lord. While a little humility is always a good thing, self-condemnation to this degree is not, and it ended up discouraging me so much that I went periods of time without spending time with God – which is not a good thing! I had to remind myself that God could forgive every sin that I had committed, and that in His eyes, I was a saint, not a sinner.
For what does the Bible say?
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
So….where is the balance?
The balance is found right in the middle, with understanding both aspects of God’s nature and of our own salvation.
Should we just keep sinning because we know we are under grace? Absolutely not! If we are saved, then we are being saved from our sin, and we are expected to live according to the Spirit, rather than the flesh. If we have been born again, we are expected to keep our old man dead, and to keep our new man alive! Most of the New Testament was addressed to the “saints” – the believers. I recently discovered that the word for “saints” could literally be translated as “holy.” So when Romans 1:7 says “beloved of God, called to be saints,” it could be re-written as “beloved of God, called to be holy.” That certainly puts a new twist on things!
“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15-17 NKJV).
As Christians, we are called to live holy lives. We are called to stand apart from the world and to do what is right, shining as lights in the darkness. When we take Jesus as our Savior, we are called to repent of our old ways and to move on to live according to the Spirit.
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardness of heart….But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:17-18, 20-23 ESV).
But while we should certainly strive to follow after the ways of the Lord, we should also remember that God is a God of mercy. When we mess up (as we all will), we have the assurance that His grace still extends toward us, and we can reach out our hand and grasp His forgiveness when we come to Him in genuine sorrow and repentance.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8 NKJV).
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Last night, as I was praying and talking with God, I was reminded of His two-fold nature as my just Master and as my loving Friend. On one hand, I am to be His humble servant. Think of Paul, who frequently referred to himself as “bondservant” of Christ, which is really just another word for “slave.” On the other hand, I am more than a servant – I am also God’s friend.
“If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” (John 12:26).
“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14).
So then, God is my personal Friend. But He’s not like an earthly friend, with whom I should just try to keep in touch with every few days or weeks or whenever I feel like talking. No, He is also my Master, and I am in His service every day. As my Master, He will give me commands. And as His friend, I will willingly obey (or, if I don’t feel like willingly obeying, I will have to remember that He is my Master whom I should obey whether I feel like it or not!).
I did not originally intend to say all that I have in this post, but I feel that this is what God wanted. So…as His servant, I will post it anyway! And as His friend, I do it willingly!
And if I don’t post very regularly after this, just know that this is not because God is not teaching me anything new every day, but because I have not felt led to post. I want to respond to the Spirit’s promptings and share only what is meant to be shared. If I share everything that I want to share, then it is no longer Christ speaking through me, but me speaking through myself for my own sake.
With that said, I hope that you find encouragement in this post, and that it spurs you on to live in the Spirit’s ways, loving and serving God – your kind Master and your just Friend.