''Winging It' with Stan Smith
Originally posted on 03/15/2017
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
I'm sure you've seen that one before. Indeed, we really like that one. "It's His kindness that leads us to repentance." Meaning, "Not His wrath or His judgment or all those crazy threats about Hell. No, we are drawn to Christ by His kindness and not 'scared to Him' by fear." But ... is that what it means?
Jesus was not shy about warnings. In Luke 13 some people asked Jesus about the murder and desecration that occurred when Pilate killed some Galileans and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. Jesus's response seems harsh.
"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5)
Harsh, perhaps, but not ambiguous. It was essentially "Repent or die!" In fact, Jesus spoke often of the specter of Hell and warned people to repent to avoid it. Repentance was His original message (Matthew 4:17) and "The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many" (Matthew 7:13) His early threat. Clearly, then, Jesus was not one to argue that we are led to repentance solely by means of God being kind to us.
What then does it mean?
The context sheds light on the question.
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? (Romans 2:2-3)
The context is warning about sin and its certain judgment. The context, then, is that all are sinners and that judgment cries out against us. So when we come to verse 4, Paul asks, "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience?" And to that I would argue that, from the perspective of a large number of people, Christians and not, this is indeed the prevalent condition today. We think that God owes us forgiveness. At least we think that He owes us the chance to be forgiven. God sent His Son to die for us because we're just so valuable, so important to Him. Ironically, He did no such thing for the angels that fell. Isn't that odd?
The truth is that God is under no obligation to save one person on the planet. It isn't required. On the other hand, justice demands payment in full. If you were to die today and find yourself at the gate of Heaven being asked, "Why should I let you into My Heaven?" the only proper answer is nothing. There is no demand that He do so. It is, then, only on the basis of the kindness of God that we are allowed to repent. It is pure kindness on His part that gives us any option of anything other than the righteous judgment we richly deserve. This is the meaning of the phrase, "the kindness of God leads you to repentance." God leads you to repentance purely on the basis of His kindness, not justice or obligation.
There is another aspect that we miss here and an important one. What else does the phrase tell us besides the fact that we are given repentance purely on the basis that God is kind? Paul said that His kindness "leads you to repentance". On one hand, it is specific -- "leads you" -- rather than general. It isn't repentance generously sprinkled or tossed about. It is specifically "you" -- those to whom this is given. On the other hand, it isn't a mere offer, a mere "allowing to repent". It is actual direction. It says He "leads you." We aren't wooed or enticed. He didn't put up posters with invitations or offer salvation if you come down the aisle. He leads to repentance those to whom He shows this kindness. It is active, not passive.
I don't know about you, but when the import of this hits me, I am stunned -- in amazement. I deserve punishment, the wages that I've so richly earned. There is no reason to expect or hope for anything else. Justice demands it. And then this light dawns. God, out of sheer kindness, reaches down and leads me to repentance, a gift granted (2 Timothy 2:25). Not by anything that I have done. Not because I'm valuable or lovable or worth something more than others. Nor because I've figured it out, seen the light, come to my senses. Merely because of His kindness and His purpose (Romans 9:11). Why should He let me into His heaven? There is no reason that He should, so it is all the more astounding that He does so on the basis of the shed blood of His Son applied to the sin of those whom He kindly leads to repentance. As the song says, "Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all."