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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kindness and Repentance

If you've been in a church at all, you most likely know that "God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance" (Rom 2:4). Ahhh, yes. A warm feeling, isn't it? Especially after all that "fire and brimstone" of yesteryear. "You see," they tell us, "we need to focus on God's kindness, not His wrath or judgment. Because, after all, that's what this verse tells us. And we want to follow what God's Word tells us."

True, we do. So ... is that what it tells us?

In fact, that's not at all what it's talking about. Check the verse itself:
Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom 2:4).
Oh, now, see? That's not quite so friendly, is it? The context is presuming on the riches of His kindness. But let's take a broader look. What's around the verse?
We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom 2:2-5).
Now, if you're paying attention, I think it becomes abundantly clear that "Let's not talk about God's judgment" is the farthest thing from the context of this passage. Instead, God's judgment is the context. It is the context of the text. It is the context of the context (Rom 1:18-3:20). The point is that we are all sinners (Rom 3:23) all due judgment (Rom 6:23) and all in need of a means of escape. It's the "Bad News" that precedes and defines the "Good News".

So what is Paul saying? Paul is explaining that we're all in trouble. We all justly deserve God's wrath. He will "render to each one according to his works" (Rom 2:6), and that's not a good thing for us. Paul is stating the problem. Explaining clearly, then, God's righteous wrath and judgment, we are left with a question. "Okay ... now what?!" And the answer ... is God's kindness. Having necessarily and clearly explained the trouble we're in, we are left with a kind opportunity from God to repent and get right with Him. That's the message.

But, that's not the meaning of the verse in question. The verse in question is a warning. We are procrastinators when it comes to doing what is good and right. We don't think "it will happen to me" when it surely will. We think "I've still got time" when we don't. We ... presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience. And that, Paul tells us, is dangerous.

God's kindness means that He offers repentance when He doesn't need to offer repentance. That's good news! When people procrastinate on that good news, they do so at their own peril. It isn't an eternal offer. This is a limited-time opportunity. Watch out! And that's Paul's message. So the next time you think, "Perhaps we shouldn't be talking about judgment so much since it's God's kindness that leads us to repentance," ask yourself how it would appear to be kindness if they don't know it's needed or it's for a finite time? Maybe we should continue in the tradition of the prophets, the New Testament writers, and Christ Himself because God's judgment is real, right, and coming, and we have the message to help avoid it as long as we tell people they need it.

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