There’s not much that irritates me more than to hear a Believer (or worse a Christian leader) say that grace didn’t exist until the New Testament era. That statement is either one of utter ignorance of the Scriptures or is itself an act of purposeful blindness or rebellion meant only to fulfill a man-made denominational doctrine.
Grace goes back to Creation, and we can read about the Lord bestowing His grace when human merit was nowhere to be found, over and over in the Torah. By God’s grace Israel is always forgiven for its continual affront to God. And all He requires is for them to reestablish their trust and faith in Him and to demonstrate their sincerity through their obedience to Him. And how is this obedience demonstrated? By scrupulously following His ways, as defined and already established in His Torah. It is there for us to read and examine to this very day. Their circumstances wouldn’t change, but they could set their hearts on God and be faithful even within these circumstances.
In the 12th chapter of I Samuel, we see the second part of God’s (and Samuel’s) concern expressed beginning in the 21st verse. If Israel is convinced they are doomed and with no hope, they will seek to replace Yehoveh with the false gods of the region, which amounts to placing their hopes in nothing. And on the other hand if they want to stick to God Almighty, in their great desire to show repentance and sincerity they might be tempted to do all sorts of whacky, hollow, and meaningless things that accomplish absolutely nothing. Things that don’t add to their righteousness, don’t atone, and aren’t at all demanded by God. And the effect of either of those two bad choices is to wind up even further from the Lord, offending Him even more. And yet, these two choices are probably the most common ones that Believers choose when we have sinned and our guilt has overwhelmed us.
God merely says, “Come home.” Grace. Come home, the door’s open. But you must come home on God’s terms, not yours. God’s terms seem too easy because they don’t satisfy our human desire to do something big! God’s terms are the terms that have always been, but we want to do something new and spectacular. Sell our house and drop $100,000 in the collection plate. Shave our heads, put on an itchy brown burlap robe and check in to a Monastery. Pray 12 hours a day. I’ve known of people who have quit their job, left their family behind and penniless, and go on a mission trip, the whole time thinking they are doing a righteous thing that will show the Lord just how serious they are about wanting to please Him.
Folks, it’s this same kind of misguided mentality that has kept millions (maybe billions) of men and women from coming to Messiah; the New Testament calls it “The Stumbling Block.” It is that faith, trust, and love of God (through Yeshua) are the only requirements for redemption. Anything we try to add to it only demeans it. However for the bulk of mankind, faith is just too easy and it doesn’t satisfy our want to do something that makes us feel as though we have merited our salvation through deeds and expressions of worthiness. Samuel knew His people well and that they would immediately begin to think of countless actions to work their way back into God’s good graces, none of which had any value to Yehoveh whatsoever. And you know what? Those ways were bound to look suspiciously like the ways their pagan neighbors would attempt to get back into the good graces of one their gods that they thought they had offended.
So there is the good news: God is going to conditionally forgive Israel for rejecting Him and choosing a human king to rule over them. But there is also another piece of information supplied that although not new is humbling all over again. Verse 22 says, “For the sake of His great reputation He will not abandon His people.” Sometimes it is implied by theologians that all that God does is for our benefit; not true. The protection of His Holiness and Holy Name easily outweigh our needs and well being. His concern is less for the people of Israel (who have knowingly and purposefully violated the covenant and if not for His decision to offer grace are done for); but it’s to uphold His Holy Name. In fact, Samuel will continue to intercede on Israel’s behalf not so much for Israel’s sake, as for the sake of God’s reputation.
So in verse 23 Samuel reiterates that he will continue to be an intercessor for Israel because to do otherwise would be a sin added to his account. This is just another way of saying, “I’m not going to intercede for you because you deserve it. I’m going to intercede for you because that is the assignment God gave to me and for me to not do it would be my sin.” Charles Spurgeon once said, “If sinners be dammed, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” Keith Green said, “I’d rather have people hate me with the knowledge that I tried to save them.” God told Jeremiah, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1:7) and Ezekiel, “If you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood” (Ezekiel 3:18). Isaiah 58:1 says, ““Shout loudly! Don’t be quiet! Yell as loud as a trumpet! Confront my people with their rebellious deeds; confront them with their sin!
Leaders (especially of congregations), I am speaking specifically to you now so please hear this: when your people speak against you, show you disrespect or ingratitude, gripe and are never satisfied, you are not given permission by God to abandon your post. When the people you have taught, cried with, loved, cared for, and served for years hurt you or demand more than you can possibly give, you must not stop striving to lead them in the ways of righteousness. You must persevere all the more because obviously your people need it all the more.
Easy? Hardly. But perhaps you can look at things another way. If you don’t see the people reciprocating in an appropriate way to your dedication to them, maybe you can see that for God’s unfathomable reasons it remains your holy job to teach them the ways of the Lord and to care for them on behalf of our Savior. And it would be sinful to do otherwise.
(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you—a to the list: Mail List)
I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.