“The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Psalm 145:8-9). Our view of God’s grace can be that He tolerates sin and sinners, that He overlooks rebellion and that He just loves everybody right where they are and as they are. So, grace means that God has the enormous capacity and self-control not to get angry when He should. This is actually a great lie about the nature of God. It leads to Christians making hopeless attempts to love and accept people, and to ‘look for the good in them’. God’s grace means that rather than tolerate or accept sin or sinners He actually deals with sin fully in the body of Christ. God in His holiness pronounced that all sin is worthy of judgement and death and He brought that judgement fully at the cross. To say that God in His love overlooks sin is to belittle the cross. God in His holiness could not simply ‘clean the slate’. His holiness demanded that sin be punished fully. Through faith in Christ we receive the blessing of grace: our sins haven’t just been forgiven but dealt with forever. So we can look at other people and know, yes they are sinners and we should expect that – but God has dealt with their sin too.
“Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.” (Ezekiel 36:31). Ezekiel tells us that after we receive the Holy Spirit, after our hearts are renewed and we have been cleansed, and after we have been brought into the great blessing of God, that we will despise our sins. Before we received God’s salvation we enjoyed our sins; we longed for them because they seemed to be our answer for life. Our idolatry, greed and love for pleasures seemed to offer hope and a future. But when we received the Spirit, these things suddenly became a bitter taste in our mouths. When we do what we shouldn’t do our renewed hearts feel the pain of guilt. We no longer love sin and when we do it we loathe ourselves. Our sinful nature (flesh) is always with us and occasionally it rises up and we do the things we hate – but the fact that we hate it is a sure sign of the Spirit living in us. One who is not born of the Spirit doesn’t hate their sin! So strangely, when we sin and then hate our detestable acts, this is actually a sign that we are truly Christians. It shows that our holiness is fully the work of the cross and that the Spirit is alive in us. So, when we sin, we can get on with life as cleansed, holy children of God.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26). It is easy to think that the way to change a person is by reforming their behaviour – if we can change the way they act then their life can be turned around. Unfortunately in the long run this achieves little more than transferring people from one sin to the next; moving people from one unacceptable idol to other more palatable gods! The church often falls into the trap of preaching a change of behaviour as ‘becoming a Christian’. If they stop their damaging habitual sin then they are ‘converted’. Law and religion then become the path to salvation. Ezekiel spoke of a radical new covenant that would come through Jesus. By God’s salvation work He would give people a new heart, He would put His Spirit in them, and give them a heart of flesh. God begins the Christian life with a new heart (even if at conversion the outer behaviour has not changed much). But slowly that heart of flesh pumps life giving blood to the new creation and in time the person’s acts are changed. But the important work is God’s renewal work. Through faith in Jesus the person is born anew, redeemed and fit for God – holy and righteous and they began to walk and live with a new heart that pumps fresh warm blood!