Cutting God Up
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:4
I went to a faith-based chemical dependency treatment program where everyone was told of the grace and mercy to be found in God. Most addicts in the program quickly embraced those concepts, accepting forgiveness and finding joy in their absolution. That was a good thing, but there was something about it that bothered me. I saw many addicts declare themselves forgiven, which seemed to be the end of their transformation. With their guilt and shame dismissed, the impetus to radically change appeared to be removed. Those who simply dismissed their past were the most likely to repeat it as they changed nothing about their lives. They accepted mercy and forgiveness but they stopped there.
In today’s passage, Paul addressed this tendency for accepting only part of God. Having pointed out the inevitable destruction of those who abandon God to go their own way, he turned to those who think they’re on God’s side. These are the people who believe in God, and are judgmental of those who don’t believe, but their belief has never led to any actual change in how they live. They’ve accepted God’s kindness and forgiveness, but they’ve never repented from their old life and they’ve never actually followed God. They think they can keep the parts of God they like while cutting out the parts they don’t.
Most of us have done this. We love the idea of kindness, grace, and mercy. Who wouldn’t? We believe in God and we embrace the parts of him we like. We conveniently amputate the uncomfortable parts though. Paul said that if we accept God’s kindness however, then we must understand that this necessarily leads to repentance and change. We don’t just get to cut God up and take the parts we like, abandoning the rest.
The addict in treatment can and should turn to God, finding grace and mercy. He’s not done there though. God doesn’t just take over and do it all. He expects us to respond to his kindness. We don’t earn our forgiveness, but if we truly have faith in God, then it must lead to radical change, or it simply isn’t real. That’s just a pretend faith that we’ve constructed from a make-believe god of our own design.