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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Monergism.com Web Traffic August 2006 | Main | NEWS FLASH: God Glorified by Evil Spirit's Victory! »

    The Goodness of God by Pastor John Samson

    “You won’t catch me speaking about such things.” The statement came from a minister who had just heard me preach.

    “What things?” I asked.

    “Judgment, hell, wrath and the like” he said.

    “Oh, so why is it that you will not speak of such things when the Bible clearly does?” I then asked.

    I expected him to say something like, “well the Bible is a primitive book written in a primitive culture. People are more sophisticated in our day and need to hear a different kind of message – one that is affirming, and encouraging.” That's what I expected the minister to say. I expected him to ridicule me for believing and preaching the Bible in the 21st century, but this would be a wrong assumption on my part.

    From his response to my question I could readily see that this man was in fact a Bible believing Christian… a Bible believing minister, no less. Here’s what he said:

    “Well brother, Romans 2:4 says that it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance, so I believe if we want to see people repent, we have to preach on the goodness of God, not these other attributes.”

    I was stunned! Completely stunned! The man was totally sincere, but I could hardly believe how the text he mentioned in Romans 2 could be so badly mistreated.

    Just a brief scan over the passage in Romans 2 would reveal words like judgment, wrath and fury. Clearly Paul believed in and mentioned such concepts. Here’s the passage from the NASB:

    Romans 2:1-8 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 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? 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,

    The text of course nowhere states “preaching on the goodness or kindness of God is what draws sinners to repentance,” but clearly this was how the minister interpreted this statement. I wonder if he thought Jesus would need to be corrected for many times speaking of such “negative” themes as hell and judgment as he addressed vast crowds. We in fact learn more about hell from the lips of Jesus than any other person in the pages of Scripture.

    The more I thought about the words of this minister, the more I was troubled. A very poor interpretation of a verse, has led, I believe, to a very poor theology, and as a result, those who hear the man will receive a very poor diet of the Word of God. More than that, this obscuring of God has led to what Dr. R. C. Sproul describes as the Eclipse of God in our churches - the full replendent glory of God has been deliberately hidden from view by the traditions of men.

    Clearly, the minister would see attributes such as love and mercy and grace as “good” but other attributes as something less than good. But again, this is to miss the entire point of what scripture says about God.

    God is good. On this we can agree. But I would also say that everything about God is good… God is good in every one of His attributes. God is good in His Sovereignty, His holiness, His love, His justice, His mercy, His grace, and all His other attributes.

    When I say God is good in His justice, I mean that God will make sure that justice takes place to punish every sin. Why is that good? It is good because justice is a good thing. It is good when criminals are brought to justice. It is a bad thing in fact when (at least in this life) the guilty man seemingly “gets away” with his crime.

    Think of it this way: if a Judge in a murder trail hears that the jury has come to a unanimous decision in pronouncing the guilt of the accused, but then says, “Look, I know you have been found guilty.. and the law says that I should sentence you to serve a minimum 20 year prison sentence, but I've got good news... today is my birthday.. I’m feeling in a very good mood.. so lets just say that you’ve learnt your lesson now (I’m sure this whole trial has not been an easy time for you), so just go and try not to do this kind of thing again. O.K., court dismissed!”

    If such a thing were to take place, I don’t think the judge would keep his job. Why? Because the judge himself would be condemned for not dispensing justice. An injustice occurs when justice is not administrated.

    Taking this illustration back to the theme of God’s attributes, when we talk of God being good, it certainly does include the idea that God is a good judge. God is good when it comes to dispensing justice. This of course is not so good for us, because if each of us receives justice, we will all end up in hell. That's what each of us as sinners deserve. We deserve for each of our sins to be punished to the full. We don't want or need justice, we need mercy! And that's what we find at the cross... our sins were laid on Christ (Isa. 53:4-6) and He received the full wrath and punishment of God which we deserved. God's justice was poured out on Him to the full; yet in great mercy, God imputes the very righteousness of Christ to all who believe in Him. It is an unblemished righteousness, without spot or wrinkle, which has perfectly fulfilled the law and pleased the Father. 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Christ the just, suffered for the unjust. He bore our sin and its full punishment. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53).

    He took what we deserved, so we could receive what He deserved. He took the justice due to us, we receive the justice due to Him as One who pleased His Father at all times. What grace! What mercy toward us sinners!

    My brief inter-change with this minister makes me wonder how often faulty interpretation leads to faulty theology, not merely in other's people's hearts and minds but my own. How often is it the case that I assume what a text means? We are all slaves to our traditions, and as my friend Dr. James White says so well, "those most enslaved to their traditions are those who don't believe they have any." All of us need to humble ourselves before God and treat His word with humility, allowing God to show us if our assumptions about the text can hold up to scrutiny.

    I was able to share some of these thoughts with the minister, and I could see that he went away with much to think about… but sometimes I find, traditions are so deep and ingrained, that a good number of folk will not expose their traditions to the light of scripture. I don’t know if that is the case with this minister, but I know my own heart. I, all too often, assume what a verse means rather than taking the time to study to see if these things be so.

    God in His goodness brings many to repentance. Whenever someone is brought to repentance, we can be sure that God’s goodness and kindness is the unseen cause behind it. Sinners do not come to Christ by their own power, but by the good and effectual call of God.

    We can also be sure that God is good, all the time… and that means that all sins will be punished - either when they were laid on Christ and He was punished in behalf of all those who would ever believe on Him; or else the punishment will be meted out as wrath and fury is poured out on the sinner in hell. Either way, God remains just as well as the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

    Posted by John Samson on September 4, 2006 05:31 PM

    Comments

    Johnny S. Good to hear from you brother.

    All this talk of wrath got me thinking and prompts a question:

    Can someone even be a Christian who does not believe that they justly deserve the wrath of God save in the mercy of Jesus Christ?

    If your minister friend is teaching a gospel without clearly explaining their horrific condition, he is leading them astray from the true gospel of Christ. For it is self-deception to the utmost degree to believe one is good and merely need add Jesus to our life for some help.

    Nope, a full-orbed gospel is not preached unless people, by God's grace and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, become aware of their unholiness and unrighteousness in the in the presence of the majesty of the Lord. They need a Savior, not a psycho-therapist. It is only when we come to an end of ourselves, recognizing that we have no hope whatsoever save in Jesus Christ ALONE that the gospel is understood There must be a dispair of any and all hope from ourselves. This is when we know God has done a work of grace in one's heart, and then is when we see the truth, beauty and excellency of Jesus Christ and flee to Him.

    Shalom
    John

    Great article, I posted about this same verse a couple months ago, but you said it much better.

    Hi John H.,

    You ask, "Can someone even be a Christian who does not believe that they justly deserve the wrath of God save in the mercy of Jesus Christ?"

    I would say that this is very much an essential thing if someone is to embrace the biblical gospel and be a Christian.

    You then state "If your minister friend is teaching a gospel without clearly explaining their horrific condition, he is leading them astray from the true gospel of Christ. For it is self-deception to the utmost degree to believe one is good and merely need add Jesus to our life for some help."

    I agree.

    Nope, a full-orbed gospel is not preached unless people, by God's grace and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, become aware of their unholiness in the presence of the majesty of the Lord. They need a Savior, not a psycho-therapist. It is only when we come to an end of ourselves, recognizing that we have no hope save in Jesus Christ. There must be a despair of any and all hope from ourselves. This is when we know God has done a work of grace in one's heart, and when see the truth beauty and excellency of Jesus Christ."

    Again, I agree... which is why I was so troubled by the minister's comments.

    John S.

    I in no way meant to imply that you believed anything else. But I was just as shocked as you to hear this from a Christian minister.

    By the way, when you reminded me that John Piper's new website was up, at first I rejoiced, but then, after further reflection I was downcast. It dawned upon me that a new website will mean that every Piper link available on Monergism.com will be broken. Now if you have surfed my site, you will know well that I have no small number of links to that ministry. So yesterday and today is link fixing day. About as glamorous as scrubbing toilets, but must be done :)

    Also, the other day I saw a silly bumper sticker which seems to exalt this one-sided view of Jesus. It said , "Who would Jesus Bomb" intending, of course, to make a political statement. But the answer to that question might take many by surprise. Does the person who wrote this slogan not know that Jesus is coming back in the fury of the wrath of the almighty and while Jesus now extends pardon to all who are under His Lordship, but those who do not know Him at His coming are going to be swept aside an bombed (so to speak), even worse than He did when He took out humanity in the Flood

    What am I? Well, here is what I am. I am the worst sinner I know. And by the grace of God I am doing better than I deserve. For I deserve the righteous wrath of God because of my sin. I deserve to be punished eternally. But in the mystery of His mercy, God sacrificed and crushed His Son on the Cross–as my substitute–so that I might be forgiven of my sin and know God as my Father rather than my Judge. What am I? I am truly amazed by the grace of God. That’s what I am.

    Friends,

    I greatly appreciate all the articles and comments on this website, as I am a newbie in Reformed Theology and surely can use a good dose of the exposition of the gospel.
    I once had a very uncomfortable exchange with a minister friend, and it revolved around the popular notion of the "prosperity gospel". You know, that is the "God loves you and want to have a relationship with you so he can give you good things in life". Sadly, our exchange ended with "you belive in what you believe, good for you". It surely sounded like atheists talking.

    Well, we all know that the prosperity gospel again falls into the "eclipse of God". My question is that since this kind of humanistic feel-good message is being preached everywhere, what can we do to combat/refute it? As we know that this kind of message is misleading at the best, how can we defend the biblical faith and truth with love?

    wow...considering I am under your teaching in a few weeks..I feel more secure seeing you here..Great Article!
    Terri

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