Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
Whence comes repentance? For that matter, whence comes faith? They are tied together, linked inextricably, bound. But from where do they spring? Left to our own devices, we might never repent, but somewhere along the line, our faith took hold and conviction set in and we repented our sins. But it certainly didn’t come from us. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 et al.) We are hapless, hopeless creatures in dire need of help, and so God did help.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Salvation comes from faith, faith by the grace of God. We can do nothing to deserve God’s gracious gift–no deed, no sacrament, no earthly work nor service. It is simply God’s mercy and righteousness that moves Him to give us this opportunity. It is, as Paul says in today’s verse, “the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering.” And if we do not repent and change our ways, it is as if we despise God’s rich offer–even despise God!
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
“But God…” Were there ever two sweeter words in human language? We are all sinful and prone to rebellion, BUT GOD loves us anyway and offers us salvation. We are incapable of achieving God’s righteousness on our own, BUT GOD sent His only begotten Son to die for us all. We are innately unmerciful beasts compared to the holiness of God, BUT GOD displays His own righteousness and mercy to us through Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And God does this because He is “rich in mercy” and through “the exceeding riches of His grace.” God never runs out of mercy and grace!
It truly is only through the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering that we are saved, that we are called to repentance. God suffers our disobedience for so long, and yet He still holds out to us that hope of salvation. God bears with our sinful rebellion, and yet He relents from the sentence of death that is ours for our sins. God’s righteousness demands a price be paid for our disobedience and rebellion, and yet the loving goodness of our Father moves Him to mercy. And so, while we were (and are!) yet sinners, by the exceeding riches of His grace, God sent His Son to die for us, the unrighteous. (Romans 5:6-8) We were once dead in our sin, BUT GOD moved us to repentance and faith to bring us to eternal life.
As Paul says in today’s verse, when we refuse to repent, we are rejecting God’s grace. Would we refuse to become rich in faith just so we could continue wallowing in filth and decay? Do we hate God so much that we would reject His gift? Do we despise the work He has already done for us? Do we really want to do the work ourselves, even though we know nothing we can ever do would bring us the righteousness He freely offers in Christ? Are we so blind to the glittering prize of salvation?
Repentance begins with love: God’s love for us, certainly, but also our love for God. If we despise the riches of God’s grace and mercy, then we despise His love as well. Repentance itself is part of God’s gift of grace, it is the inward change that takes place as God’s goodness moves us toward Christ and His righteousness. Why would we ever despise that?
And yet we do despise God’s grace, we do slip and stumble, we do willfully reject Him in small or large part every day. We forget Him, or we set Him aside. God’s grace is inconvenient for our sinful lives, and so we push aside our faith in Him just so we can “be ourselves.” But repentance isn’t about being ourselves, it is about being HIM, being like Christ Jesus the Son, being like our holy and loving and merciful Father God, being like the Holy Spirit that moves in our hearts even when we don’t want Him to. Repentance isn’t a “set it and forget it” thing, it is an ongoing process of rooting out the sin from our lives, a constant conviction that with the help of God we can and will change. Repentance isn’t about perfection, it’s about allowing ourselves to be perfected by God.
Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and accept the love He wishes to share with you. Do not despise the riches of God’s grace and mercy. Do not reject the gift of faith offered through Jesus Christ. Do not forget that it is God’s goodness alone that leads us to repentance. Take that path to repentance, believe in the gospel, and allow yourself to be perfected in faith and righteousness through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Heavenly Father, I can offer no gift to repay what I owe You for Your Son. I can bring no token, no sacrifice other than my contrite heart–which I know You will not despise. Perfect me, Lord God, mold me to Your image again. Guide me with Your goodness and Your grace. Amen.