This Sabbath follows shortly after the Passover–a day when we remember Jesus’s death and His sacrifice for sins. He told us to keep that day “in remembrance of me” with the symbols of His new covenant. As we think about His sacrifice, we’re forced to consider the terrible price that justice for humanity’s sins–including our sins–demanded. Jesus died an excruciating death. He endured that with His eyes fixed on “the joy set out for him” because He knew that sacrifice was needed to grow His and His father’s family.
Recognizing the high price Jesus paid for us should humble us deeply and move us to genuine repentance. It should also boggle our minds with a realization of His overflowing love. God has been inviting people into His family for thousands of years even though He knew the cost of that welcome. Moreover, He still chooses us today knowing that even after we receive the gift of forgiveness we’ll mess up again. Thankfully, Jesus’s perfect sacrifice keeps covering those sins when we repent after making a mistake; He doesn’t need to be sacrifice again each time we slip-up (Hebrews 10:1-18). God chooses us and keeps showing us mercy even knowing we’ll mess up. This is a kind of love that people rarely offer to each other, but the Creator of all things gives it to us.
A History of Gracious Relationships
Long ago, God chose to form a covenant with Abraham and with his children. Those descendants grew into a nation called Israel, and God delivered them from Egypt on the first Passover. About 50 days later (very likely on the day of Pentecost), God made a covenant with them as well. About 40 years later, when Israel was finally ready to go into the promised land, God had this conversation with Moses:
“Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. This people will rise up and play the prostitute after the strange gods of the land where they go to be among them, and will forsake me and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come on them; so that they will say in that day, ‘Haven’t these evils come on us because our God is not among us?’ I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods.
“Now therefore write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land which I swore to their fathers, flowing with milk and honey, and they have eaten and filled themselves, and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods, and serve them, and despise me, and break my covenant. It will happen, when many evils and troubles have come on them, that this song will testify before them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten out of the mouths of their descendants; for I know their ways and what they are doing today, before I have brought them into the land which I promised them.”Deut. 31:16-21, WEB
God knew Israel wouldn’t be faithful, but He chose them anyway and told them to keep coming back to Him when (not if) they strayed from the right path. Similarly, He choses us knowing we’ll make mistakes and already planning to keep welcoming us each time we turn back to Him repentantly asking for forgiveness. When we begin this relationship with God He asks us for faithfulness, we promise to be faithful, and He accepts that promise even though he knows we’ll slip up and He’ll need to forgive us again.
Even at my best, my faithfulness involves falling, picking myself up (or Him picking me up), and then recommitting to walking with God. I’m encouraged looking at centuries of Bible history that records God’s grace-fueled relationships with people. There’s so much forgiveness available from God; so many calls in His word for people to keep coming back to Him. The whole process of us trying to be faithful to God is enabled by His faithfulness.
Saved Before We Were Good
Paul’s letter to Rome is one of the Bible books that I find most fascinating. There’s so much packed into this letter about our relationship with God and how His expectations for us work in the New Covenant. Paul spends quite a bit of time discussing the topic of God choosing us even though it’s still a battle for us to live in the spirit rather than in the flesh.
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.Romans 5:1-11, NET
God’s love is so amazing. No one could reasonably expect someone as perfect or as important as God to die for people like us. Most human beings would hesitate to die even for a good person, and we weren’t even good (Rom. 3:24-26). We are family, though, because God the Father decided He wants us to be His children. He claims us as His, justifies us even though we fall short of His glory, and gives us life through Jesus’s faithfulness.
Mercies and Great Faithfulness
It’s incredible to think of how much God loves us and of the high price He was willing to pay to remove our sins and get us into His family. Knowing that God chose us despite our past sins and even though we aren’t perfect yet should both humble and inspire us.
It’s a strange sort of balance that we’re to have in our thinking. We’re supposed to be confident while acknowledging we have no power or strength on our own. We can fully embrace our importance to God, yet we must never become puffed up and self-important. We get to be heirs in God’s family alongside Jesus, but we must give thanks for God’s mercy and continue following His example rather than boasting about what He has given us.
So in the same way at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was diligently seeking, but the elect obtained it. The rest were hardened …
But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. Then you will say, “The branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear! For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God—harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even they—if they do not continue in their unbelief—will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.Romans 11:5-6, 18-21, NET
Here, Paul explains to his readers that even though many of the the peoples descended from ancient Israel turned their backs on God, He hasn’t given up on anyone. Rather, the Lord “has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all” (Rom. 11:32, NET). This is a tricky verse, but I think it means that God chooses to treat people who ignore Him or who’ve broken covenants their ancestors made with Him as if they are ignorant and disobedient rather than unredeemably wicked. We’re accountable for what we know and what we do (see Rom. 2-3), but God still chooses mercy over judgment whenever He can (James 2:13).
As we embrace our godly identities more and more fully, we also become more and more like God. And the better we understand His holiness the more easily we see how far from being like Him we really are even as we get better at living His way of life. Alongside that comes an increased appreciation for the incredible gifts of His faithfulness, forgiveness, and mercy that keep guiding us back to Him when we miss the mark. God isn’t surprised that we aren’t perfect yet. He chose us anyway, and He keeps choosing us. We can take comfort in that, knowing that He’s just as invested (and often more so) in getting us into His kingdom as we are in being there.
Featured image by Shaun Menary from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “Who Am I?” by Casting Crowns