INTRODUCTION: This devotional series is based on J.I. Packer’s classic work, Knowing God. There is no greater quest, no more important activity, nothing that should be a higher priority than getting to know God. Too many Christians know about God without making their time with him personal. These devotionals are designed to challenge you to ask questions of yourself, bring these questions before God, make you think, and transform your relationship with God. My prayer is that your study will overflow in emotion, in touching your heart, in connecting with God, and sharing your relationship with others. The book consists of 22 Chapters, thus this series last 22 days. Dig in!
Reflections on Chapter 16: Goodness and Severity
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. (Rom 11:22).
By balancing God’s kindness and sternness, Paul debunks both pagan relativism (“all roads lead to God”) and Christian complacency (cheap grace). On the one hand God is good – the very definition of perfect, generous, moral, and kind. On the other he is severe – cutting off those who spurn him, the guilty, those deserving of punishment, and those who choose that alternative. We must accept both aspects of God to avoid worshiping Santa Claus or some austere, distant, and disconnected god/goddess. God’s kindness and sternness perfectly embody his love and draw us to God in gratitude and responsive love. Paul explains, “continue in his goodness, otherwise you will be cut off.” Though he is slow to anger and gives us time to repent, nonetheless, God expects us to come to him on his terms.
Consider the Kindness
Scriptures sing God’s praises, ringing out the message of God’s kindness and goodness. Read these passages meditating on God’s kindness and goodness:
So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 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, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:4-7)
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. (Ps 23:6)
How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world. You hide them in the shelter of your presence, safe from those who conspire against them. You shelter them in your presence, far from accusing tongues. (Ps 31:19-20)
You are good, and the source of good; train me in your goodness. (Ps 119:67, MSG)
Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power. I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles. Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue; I will proclaim your greatness. Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness; they will sing with joy about your righteousness. The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. (Ps 145:4-8)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23)
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:6-7)
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge (2 Pet 1:3-5)
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Tit 3:4-5)
Consider the Sternness
Paul teaches us that behind every display of divine goodness stands a threat of severity in judgment if we scorn God’s goodness. If we do not let God’s goodness draw us to him in gratitude and responsive love, we have only ourselves to blame when God responds in sternness. Paul’s challenge to us is to “continue in that kindness” – otherwise we will be cut off like the Israelites were. God is extremely patient, but he expects repentance. Romans 2 explains this principle:
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom 2:4)
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Rom 2:5-1)
Biblical teaching is riddled with paradoxes that balance coexistent principles. God is both kind and stern. God is love and because of that, he cares for us deeply. As a result, when we reject him, he cares so much that he allows that to hurt him. When we continually spurn his love, we reject his kindness and forfeit our relationship with him. Praise God that he is full of mercy, patiently desiring our repentance.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
Let’s close out by meditating, singing, and proclaiming the most repeated verse in the Bible:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Ps 136 and 44 times throughout the Bible!)