I have an internal struggle when I think about giving unconditional grace to the people around me.
What if I become a doormat to be walked on? What about standing up for what’s right? Don’t I have an obligation to uphold the laws of God and represent them? What if I am just kind and generous to everyone I meet, and give off the impression that everything I see people doing, no matter how destructive or damaging, is no big deal? Surely I need to represent how God feels about sin.
The idea of kindness leading to repentance comes from his epistle to the Romans, where Paul tells us, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” This truth comes as part of a warning not to take the fact that God does not immediately exercise his wrath on us for granted.
Sometimes, the assumption is made that God will not bring the wicked to justice because he hasn’t yet. Instead, God has pre-emptively extended grace toward us in hope that we will come to him in repentance before judgment must be carried out. This is why the “Day of Judgment” is a day in the future; instead of people being instantly vaporized on the street the first time they do something wrong.
Paul explains, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
God has extended undeserved kindness to us, pouring out his favor on us who do not deserve it, and what I am coming to realize is that God is inviting me to join him in extending that same kind of pre-emptive love to the people that surround me. This fresh perspective is helping me re-evaluate the relationships in my life.
God has a method of reaching out to sinners. He used it to reach out to me, making it easy for me to trust him, repent and turn my life over to him. He continues to be gentle, patient and kind, looking past my sin and loving me, and reaches out in kindness to me when I am falling short of his will.
If Jesus uses this method to great success all over the world, and in my life as well, why am I afraid to try it?
Jesus died to pay the price for sin. Having finished his work on the cross, he turned his attention to reaching out to the sinners themselves, to apply his blood and forgiveness to as many as will allow it.
I represent Jesus to the world around me, I want to know that I represent him faithfully. Jesus told of a servant who, after having a great debt forgiven, choked a fellow servant and demanded he pay back the small sum he owed him.
Do I do this? Am I some kind of debt-collector, busting kneecaps in the name of Jesus?
Jesus said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Everyone around us, friends and enemies alike, has sin that needs to be dealt with, and of course needs Jesus to pay the price. Jesus welcomes us to credit that debt and that burden to his account. No one had the right to place that burden on him, but Jesus took it willingly. Jesus has invited us to represent him by reaching out in acts of kindness and love, looking past others’ sin to love each person. He used kindness to lead us to repentance, and invites us to use our kindness to lead others to repentance as well.
If I can’t forgive my neighbor, how can I expect them to believe that Jesus will?
The Rev. James T. Rush is pastor of Calvary Fellowship Walla Walla. You may contact him at 509-876-1088 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The church’s website is www.calvaryfellowshipww.com.