Counsel from the Cross
- Tuesday, July 14, 2009
How We Think of Him
If we forget God’s generous, overwhelming grace in forgiving us, we will think of him as a “hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed” (Matt. 25:24). We will have low thoughts of him. We will see him as a harsh taskmaster, exacting rigorous, impossible obedience from us and being disappointed and angry with us when we (predictably) fail to meet his expectations. We will assume that God continues to hold our sins against us and that he is tallying up all the ways in which we fail. When we fail to savor his astonishing mercy, he will morph into a satanic caricature in our minds, a Pharaoh, demanding that we make bricks without straw. In response, we will be bound to hide our talent in the ground for fear of greater failure or harsher rebuke and then grudgingly return it to him when we have to (Matt. 25:25).
How We Think of Ourselves
If we forget that we are forgiven by God because of his Son’s sacrifice, we will see ourselves as slaves trying to earn his goodwill and make up for past miscues rather than as forgiven children. We will be afraid to try to obey because we know we are bound to fail. If God is like Pharaoh, he won’t be touched by our halting efforts at obedience. We will be afraid to persevere because we’ll know that we are doomed from the start. Why bother trying? We will be void of the love for him that is meant to motivate and fuel all our attempts at obedience. We will become lazy, unbelieving servants (Matt. 25:26).
How We Think of Others
If in our sight God becomes a caricature of Pharaoh, then our brothers and sisters in Christ are nothing more than fellow slaves who had better pull their weight. If God seems harsh and demanding, unforgiving and exacting, then that is exactly how we will treat others. Forgive them for sinning against us? Well, maybe, but only after we’ve gotten our pound of flesh, and they have proven that they are really sorry and have really changed. Why would we be generous toward them when God has been so demanding of us?
When we forget about God’s lavish forgiveness, we will hate our Master, and we will oppress our fellow slaves. After all, it certainly wouldn’t be right for them to get away without meeting Pharaoh’s quota like we have to! We will demand strict obedience without forgiveness because that’s what we imagine God has demanded from us. Forgetting that we are already forgiven will rob us of those Christlike qualities of kindness, generosity, gentleness, and longsuffering. It will also rob us of the only acceptable motive for obedience: love. The gospel declaration embodied in the “therefore” makes all the difference in the world.
You Are Beloved
After reminding us of God’s mercy and forgiveness, Paul writes that we are to imitate God as beloved children. It is important that we remember that we are beloved children because beloved children function differently from houseguests or foster kids. Although guests or foster children may be welcomed into a family home for a time, everyone knows that they aren’t really part of that family. A guest or foster child knows that he doesn’t have the same access, inheritance, freedom, or assurance that a son or daughter has. He can’t just run and jump on the father’s lap and kiss his cheek and ask for treats. He knows that his position is tenuous and can change at any moment. He knows that he has to earn love and a place in the home.
God’s disposition toward us is entirely different because we are beloved. He isn’t simply tolerating us, regretting that he opened the door to the likes of us. No, we’re beloved. This is the same word that the Father employed to describe his disposition to his Son; he referred to him as beloved or as his Beloved (see Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Eph. 1:6), and because of Christ’s work on our behalf, so are we. Jesus himself said that his Father loves his people as he loves his Son (John 17:23). This is an astonishing truth. You are his beloved.
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