NOTE: Please read Part 1 before reading Part 2.
So what do we make of this tendency of ours to lean toward this kind of extreme “either-or” theology? Is God love? Is He a judge? How on earth can He be both? To be sure, there is a hell. Christ taught us there is the reality of hell. To be sure, there is also a heaven. Christ invites us to receive Him into our hearts to take hold of this free gift of Eternal Life. Thus, God is by nature a God of justice; there will be hell to pay for sin. Yet God is also by nature a God of love; His will is that none perish but all have Eternal Life and so He has provided the way to Heaven through His Son Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul teaches us that the penalty for sin is death; yet Christ teaches us that this penalty of death was fully paid when He was nailed to the Cross, bled a bloody, painful death and then rose again overcoming death and thus the penalty of sin.
Christ taught us that HE is the only way; the only way to escape the coming wrath of God for the sins of this world. The Bible has taught since the beginning that sin is only forgiven by the shedding of blood. Yet the Bible also says that God was not pleased with the sacrifice of animals that became a religious work people did to earn His favor; so He offered His Son Jesus Christ as the ultimate, final, satisfactory blood sacrifice for ALL the sins of the world. In doing so, God did not suspend His requirement for holiness. He did not amend the Holy Scriptures to say that sin is no longer a big deal; or that sin is no longer sin; or that repentance is no longer necessary; or that we are now fully liberated to do what we want.
We often get confused in thinking that “repentance” is a religious work like the sacrifice of animals; we convince ourselves that we are saved by grace; not works; and thus, we start to malign the meaning of God’s Word by denigrating the spiritual act of repentance into some unnecessary and even legalistic religious work. This is error. Repentance is absolutely necessary; the doctrine of repentance is consistently demanded by God throughout the Old and New Testaments. That has never changed.Yet in the midst of this requirement for repentance, God does not ever suspend His free offer of mercy and grace to those who will receive His Son Jesus Christ. In the midst of our sin epidemic, God does not say, “Jesus paid for these sins…but NOT those sins.” Nor does He ever suggest that we must earn this forgiveness by repenting.
In this respect, we must expand our definition of repentance in order to fully capture God’s full nature of truth and love. On the truth side, we know that God requires us to repent; to turn from sin. Yet on the love side, we also know from the teachings of Christ that repentance looks like answering an invitation; an inclusive invitation (God does not exclude or show favoritism). We might say that repentance looks like surrender or a letting go. Theologian Kenneth E. Bailey spent decades studying the Scriptures in the context of Middle East Culture. He spent much time in the Middle East. He has defined the term repentance to mean, “accepting being found.” When we “accept being found”, we are not just turning from sin….we are turning to God in relationship. We are surrendering to Him in a deep, abiding, trustworthy, dependent relationship. We are wholly leaning into His mercy and grace; knowing that He freely receives us. As the Scriptures promise, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart. I will be found by you.”So God’s holistic nature is LOVE; and it is TRUTH. God will judge all sin. Yet through Christ He will forgive the sins of those who surrender to Christ; those who “accept being found” by God, our Good Shepherd. Bailey highlights this when he exegetes the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son.
Jesus told all three stories together. Bailey interestingly notes, “Sheep don’t repent. Neither do coins. They are found!” Likewise, Bailey says that while the Lost Son does repent; it is more like he finally surrenders to “accepting being found” by the Prodigal Father (who is our Heavenly Father). His repentance does involve a turning from sin; yet the story is much more about a Lost Son being found: “This son of mine was lost, but now is found”, the Prodigal Father proclaims with great joy. This story captures the deeper realities that repentance is necessary; but repentance is set in the context of deep, personal relationship – a love relationship – with God Our Father.When we view repentance in this manner, then all of a sudden we have a more holistic image of God. He is a God of justice. Yet He is also a God of deep love for His children. And He has a deep desire that more children will come home to His Son – the only path He has designated for the forgiveness of sins.
Now some will claim, “That’s not kindness! God is so mean to have only ONE PATH – a Narrow Path! – to receive forgiveness for our sins.” Yet let me ask you a question: Which is more sure, more secure, more knowable, more acceptable – a salvation that is “possibly” gained by 6 billion alternative paths; or a single path that is absolutely certain?If you are going to visit a friend, does he give you 100 different ways to get to his house? Or does he give you the quickest and best way; the most sure way? Of course, the latter. This analogy does not fully hold up for there truly may be 3 or 4 very good ways to get to your friends’ home. Yet God prescribes a single and sure way – the exclusive and only way – to arrive at a heavenly destination when our life here on earth comes to a close.
He offers the sacrifice of blood for the forgiveness of sins NOT through us; NOT through our goodness; NOT through our own justifications; but ONLY through His Son Jesus Christ. It is a single path not to exclude; but to inclusively point ALL people toward the one sure path to Eternal Life.
God is a God of clarity; NOT confusion. Six billion options may seem like absolute freedom but it is really an absolute prison; for we can never really know for sure what paths are sustainable truths. The great blessing of a SINGLE PATH to Heaven is that there is NO confusion; we can KNOW – for sure – the way to Heaven.
Our God is a holistic God in which His judgment of sin will be absolute; no one will escape. Yet God in a great pursuit of us in His love provides the CLEAR and ONLY way of escape Himself; through His son Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross. This is the whole nature of our God…With a holistic view of God, we can now consider how we are to engage others in a spirit of truth and love. And this gets us back to our original concern: how do we balance Christian Kindness between the Sinners that God loves and the sin that God judges?Click here to easily navigate to Part 3.
NOTE: Please read Part 1 before reading Part 2.