I began this Sunday’s sermon by asking everyone to consider their view of God’s attitude towards them in their sin. How does God see and receive us in our sin, guilt and shame?
Is he shaking his head in frustration? Throwing up his hands in disbelief that you failed again? Is he withdrawing from you just a bit, until you get things back on track? Does he begrudgingly offer you another chance, just cause that’s what he’s supposed to do? Is he like an angry and exasperated father, yelling at you that you’ve failed again? Does his affection and compassion for you get tempered a bit?
And we spent the sermon unpacking the wonderful news of Hebrews 4:14-5:10 that Jesus is sympathetic towards us in our sin, able to “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward,” and invites us to draw near to him “with confidence” that we will “receive mercy and find grace.”
But perhaps you don’t feel this is an area where you struggle. Perhaps you readily behold God as sympathetic, compassionate and gentle to you in your sin. Let me ask you this: do you treat others similarly when they sin, even when they sin against you?
This is a test that tends to reveal the real state of our hearts, whatever our words may claim. If we are regularly impatient, harsh, and exasperated by the sin of our brothers and sisters, we are wise to consider how we fail to truly grasp God’s gentle and compassionate disposition towards us.
If we truly beheld the tender and gracious heart of God towards us when mired in our sin and guilt, and his readiness to receive us with joy, realizing how undeserving we are of it, how could we be justified in extending anything less to our brothers and sisters?
This is the point of Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18: “And should not your have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” I take that this is also the point of Jesus words that “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:15).
To consider this from another angle: the times when we see in ourselves some bitterness, harshness, impatience, a slowness to extend kindness and grace, a harboring of condemning, judgmental spirit towards a brother or sister are opportunities for us to press more deeply into God’s joyful and gentle reception of us when we come to him in our sin. These are opportunities for us to behold God more accurately.
Now, one clarifying point is needed: this does not mean we minimize sin, ignore the damaging effects of sin, or turn a blind eye to sin. But if our brother or sister is already aware of their sin and guilt, this is not likely the danger we face. The danger we face is a heart that is unwilling to extend to our brother or sister the kindness and welcome that our God has extended to us.
And as much as this can feel wrong, as righteous and justified as we can feel in refusing to extend this, the cross says otherwise: we can do this because our brother’s or sister’s sin has been sufficiently paid for on the cross, just as much as ours has.