The Face of Grace
Pencil sketch by JC Chambers
Part twelve in a study of God's grace from the book of John.
What does God expect from us?
“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” John 1:23-24
Jesus was a realist.
When “many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name,” Jesus did not “entrust himself to them.” He was too discerning for that. He “knew what was in a man.” He never harbored unrealistic expectations.
Someone has observed that, “unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.” Jesus was too realistic to resent. He understood how difficult it was, and is, for people to turn intention into action in the spiritual realm.
We run into trouble because we harbor unrealistic expectations. We make promises to God. We assume that God takes these promises seriously and that He holds us to them.
When the Assyrian Empire threatened the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BC, the Israelites promised to reform their ways in order to get God to rescue them.
“Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:1-3
The Israelites believed that if they would “return to the Lord,” God would protect them. They fully expected that God would be heartened by their acknowledgment and would in turn “revive” and “restore” them.
God wasn’t interested in their promises of devotion.
“What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.” Hosea 6:4
God understood that these pledges of fidelity were short-lived and skin-deep. He compared their love to “the morning mist” and “the early dew that disappears” . . . something that burns off quickly.
If God wasn’t interested in “rededications” and “recommitments,” what did interest Him?
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings . . . Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say “Our gods” to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.’” Hosea 6:6, 14:1-3
God wanted “mercy, not sacrifice” from them. He wanted them to turn to Him rather than to Assyria, or the “gods” their own “hands have made.” God didn’t want them to try harder to prove their devotion. He wanted them to look to Him as the One in whom “the fatherless find compassion.”
When threatened, we frequently resolve to “get serious” with God. We commit ourselves to giving, Bible study, church attendance and service as expressions of spiritual fervor. We attempt to correct the deficiencies in our devotion in order to experience His protection and provision.
When we fail to follow through, we assume that God is displeased, discouraged and disillusioned. This is not the case.
In the book Knowing God, J.I. Packer reminds us that "God's love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me."
Simply stated, this means that God can never be "disillusioned" with us because He is never "illusioned" with us in the first place.
God’s love for us in rooted in reality.