God, Judgment and Repentance
The Christian mission has been described in quite simple terms: it is about one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. That is not all there is to it of course, but we are involved in telling others about the good news of what Jesus did about our sin problem so that we might be reconciled with God.
The tragic truth is, not everyone wants God. Many have utterly rejected God, and it seems nothing will induce them to change their minds. Neither the promise of eternal joys in heaven nor eternal suffering in hell will convince some people to get right with God.
At the end of the day they have made their own choices on this. Sure, we pray for them, evangelise them, plead with them, and seek to represent Christ to them. But many will refuse nonetheless. Indeed, how can it not be so, given that many people actually rejected Jesus Christ when he walked on the earth?
If they rejected him, then we should not be surprised if they reject us. But that should not deter us. We keep at it, both warning and encouraging. We certainly can teach and preach the love of God, and hope that some are wooed by his grace and goodness.
We also can preach the holiness and judgment of God, letting people know that we all will stand before him as our creator and judge, to give an account of what we did with his offer of forgiveness. Warning of wrath to come is certainly not amiss, as Jesus himself did it more than anyone else in the New Testament.
Let me look a bit more at both approaches. A classic passage on the former is of course Romans 2:4: “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?”
Yes God is good, but his goodness is meant to lead us to repentance, not to indifference and ongoing sin. And as to the latter, one simply has to read the very next verse: “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.”
As I already said, we have plenty of strong warnings of judgment and hell coming from the lips of Jesus. But the sad thing is, just as many will reject the message of God’s love and mercy, so too many will reject his warnings of judgment.
Indeed, God even allows hard times, tragedies and acts of judgment in this life to get our attention. Such difficulties, tests and trials can of course either make us bitter or better – they can become obstacles or opportunities. But we dare not waste such occasions.
I recall a few years ago driving around Canberra with a Christian leader from there, just after major bush fires had ravaged parts of the city. I asked him, “So did all this death and destruction result in a general move of people back to God?” He laughed and said “No”. Even all this misery and devastation did not seem to shift the spiritual climate of the place, and most men’s hearts remained cold.
When I was recently reading Revelation I came across this very idea. God sends heavy duty punishment and judgment, yet people remain frozen in their defiance and rebellion. That is a very frightening place to be in. Consider three such passages from Revelation:
Rev 9:20-21 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Rev 16:8-11 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
Rev 16:21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.
Wow, the hand of God comes down on these folks big time, yet they still refuse to repent and turn back to God. Those are some very hardened hearts. How can people get to such a state where their consciences are seared, their hearts are hard, and their rebellion has become so entrenched like this?
There is a lesson and a warning in all this for us. We too must guard against the hardening of the heart and the searing of the conscience. Even believers are susceptible to this. There are in fact many warnings in Scripture about not becoming hardened. Consider just a few:
Matthew 13:14-15 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
Ephesians 4:18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
Hebrews 3:8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness
We must take seriously these various warnings now, lest we become so hardened that we are no longer able to turn back to God. And again, this is not just for non-believers. The really great tragedy is many people who call themselves believers can also undergo such hardening.
I say this with great regret, but I know plenty of people who were once on-fire Christians who have utterly renounced their faith and their Lord. Their hearts are hard and their souls are cold. They reject admonition, reproof and pleas to return to Christ.
Thus we must all pray to stay soft, open and humble before the Lord. If others who once seemed so solid in their faith can drift away and harden themselves against the Lord and his love, then we might also. We need to always keep in mind these admonitions and warnings found in Scripture.
As James Montgomery Boice says about Romans 2:4: “There are two ways we can go, of course. Paul is clear about them. One way is repentance, the way Scripture urges. The other is defiance, or spite toward God’s goodness. Which will it be for you?” Don’t let Romans 2:5 become God’s intent for you.