Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
There’s always been a pattern in the way God deals with man’s disobedience. This pattern was first seen in the Garden and appears repeatedly in the lives of the Patriarchs, in the history of Israel, and all through the Old Testament. Disobedience brought consequences, but confession brought forgiveness and a new beginning.
Take the case of Abraham. The Lord had said to him, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go into a land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). But Abraham took his father, his nephew Lot, and all their families with him, and went only as far as Haran, about half way, where they remained for several years. After his father died, Abraham completed the journey, again with Lot and all the possessions and people they had acquired in Haran, finally arriving in Canaan many years after they first started out (Gen. 11:31 and 12:4-5).
But then Abraham and Sarah left the land God had brought them to and went to Egypt, where they acquired Hagar, an Egyptian handmaiden. While they were there they got into trouble with Pharaoh for misrepresenting their relationship and were asked to leave the country. Later, after waiting 18 years for the Lord to give them a son, Abraham and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands. As a result Hagar became the first surrogate mother in recorded history, giving birth to Ishmael. And so Abraham, the first man to be called a Hebrew, caused the birth of the first Arab. The problems that created continue to this day.
Are You Going To Obey Me Or Not?
Variations on the same theme continue in the lives of Isaac, Jacob, 11 of his 12 sons and ultimately in the history of the nation they founded. In fact the entire Old Testament can be summed up in one question. “Israel, are you going to obey Me or not?” (The answer was clearly no.)
For example, the land was given to Israel without condition (Gen.17:7-8), but to live there in peace and prosperity, they had to obey the Laws He gave them. When they didn’t, the Lord either permitted their enemies to rule over them or had them taken from the land altogether. Once these consequences were experienced and they had turned back to Him, the Lord helped them defeat their oppressors and return to their land.
Disobedience, consequence, confession, forgiveness, new beginning: this cycle was repeated over and over again. Israel’s disobedience caused periods of subjugation by Mesopotamia for 8 yrs (Judges 3:8), the Moabites for 18 yrs (Judges 3:12-14) the Canaanites for 20 years (Judges 4:2-3) the Midianites for 7 years (Judges 6:1) the Ammonites for 18 years (Judges 10:7-8) the Philistines for 40 years (Judges 13:1) expulsion by the Babylonians for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:8-11) subjugation again by the Greeks under Antiochus IV from 168-163 BC, and finally under the Romans both subjugation, beginning in 63 BC, and then expulsion (70-1948 AD).
Why Is He So Forgiving?
Why, when they continued to make the same mistakes over and over again did He always take them back? The answer is in Ezekiel 36:22. It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. It’s because He promised He would and His integrity is at stake. It was an eternal and unconditional promise that their periodic disobedience would not deter Him from keeping.
In the New Testament. the writer of Hebrews called Abraham a towering example of faith, omitting any mention of disobedience in summarizing his life (Hebr. 11:8-12). And Paul described Abraham as one whose faith was credited to him as righteousness, and who never wavered through unbelief (Rom 4:3, 20). It’s as if his acts of disobedience had never happened. How could that be?
“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
It’s because in Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted above, God promised Israel a New Covenant that would permit Him to forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more. That’s why there’s no mention of Abraham’s disobedience in the New Testament. The New Covenant has come and the Lord is making good on His promise to forgive everyone who asks and forget everything we’ve done. (Now it’s true that Israel has not officially accepted this New Covenant, but for those like Abraham who have sought the Lord’s forgiveness, He has granted it.)
“Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
His mercies are still new every morning. No matter how big a mess we made yesterday, today is a brand new day. All we have to do is ask and His forgiveness wipes the slate clean again.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”(John 6:39-40).
That’s because we’re saved on the basis of our belief, not our behavior, and He’s promised not to lose any of us along the way, no matter what.
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
All this happened before we had done a single thing, good or bad, in our life as a believer. We’re His and nothing can change that.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
He’s also promised to forgive us whenever we confess our sins, even after we’re saved.
These are unconditional promises, given by One Who cannot lie. His integrity is still at stake. After all, He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebr. 13:8).
Are You Going To Believe Me Or Not?
So just like He did with Israel, the Lord has made eternal and unconditional promises to the Church. These promises were so important to Him that He signed them in His own blood. But even so, some try to re-interpret them by adding conditions He never mentioned, or ignore them altogether in an attempt to make our salvation dependent on something other than our faith. Turns out the New Testament can be summed up in a single question, too. “Church, are you going to believe Me or not?” Sadly, for many the answer still seems to be no.