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The Kindness of God

How can we atone for our sins? Sometimes we feel so guilty from the things we’ve done in our past that we wish there was some way we could do something to make up for it, some sacrifice or task that would take it all away.
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How can we atone for our sins? Sometimes we feel so guilty from the things we’ve done in our past that we wish there was some way we could do something to make up for it, some sacrifice or task that would take it all away.

Well, the solution is not in our own ability to make an atonement. What is more powerful than sin is God’s power to save. In Titus 3:3-5 Paul writes,

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”.

What these words tell us is that there isn’t a mechanical formula for dealing with sin. We can tie ourselves up in knots trying to figure out why Christ died on the cross and what that means regarding the atonement. We reject the notion that Jesus died instead of us, taking the punishment we deserve on himself that somehow opened the way for God to accept us. But all that does is turn God into a bloodthirsty deity, demanding his pound of flesh. Is sin dealt with by crucifying a man on a cross, a man who never sinned? Certainly, there was an element in Christ’s death that teaches us about the importance of crucifying the flesh, but that’s not what solves the problem of sin. What solves it is what Paul says here in Titus – the goodness and loving kindness of God.

Those characteristics are far more powerful than sin, and they demolish it. Christ’s death wasn’t to atone for our sins, but a way to bring us to our knees in contrite confession before our Father who is ready to destroy sin by goodness and kindness. He didn’t need Christ to die to change his mind about us, to appease his wrath so that he could be kind. It’s we who need Christ to change our minds so we’re ready to receive God’s kindness.

Elsewhere Paul writes, “God’s kindness is mean to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). God is like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, there, waiting at the door of the house, with arms outstretched ready to embrace his child. God’s kindness is the motivational force in our lives which empowers us towards repentance and “to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).

We struggle to accept God’s way of dealing with sin. For some reason we would much rather figure out the mechanical formula, find that nugget of truth about the atonement which explains it all. But it’s God’s character of mercy, grace, patience, lovingkindness, faithfulness, forgiveness and justice which is at the core of who he is. Moses had just instituted the old covenant, with all its sacrifices and rituals, when he came back down the mountain to see the people worshiping a golden calf – straight back into sin. Moses ascended the mountain again, confused, and asked God to show him his ways. God’s reply was his character. He deals with sinful men and women by showing compassion and kindness.

David was a man who fully experienced the power of God’s kindness. Under the old covenant he should have been killed twice over for his sin of adultery and premeditated murder. But God forgave him and there is no record of David offering any sacrifice. Psalm 51 records his thoughts after his sin –

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways,and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of our righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (v13-17).

Notice David’s acknowledgement that there’s nothing he can do to atone for his sins. It’s only when we change our minds, become contrite and repentant, that sin is dealt with. David is then motivated to teach transgressors God’s way and convert sinners to him. That’s the knock-on effect of God’s kindness in forgiving sin. Yes, we can take advantage of it and “continue in sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1) but the way God treats us is designed to provoke us into being the sort of people who can be called his sons and daughters.

The death of Christ does take away sin, but not in a mechanical or ritualistic way. Christ’s death draws us to him, convicts us, causes us to fall on our knees in repentance, so we receive the benefits of God’s extraordinary kindness, and motivates us to participate in the spirit of what Jesus did in giving his life for others.

Richard Morgan,
Simi Hills, CA

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