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Mercy and Holiness

volume 21, number 35, September 1, 2022

God stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” – Genesis 3:24

Perhaps you daily battle mountainous pride, coldness of heart, or the thorns and thistles of relationships that make life messy and chaotic. Maybe your pride keeps you from coming to Jesus for salvation or a growing sanctification. It may even keep you from going to your spouse, children, or friends and confessing your sin, asking them specifically to forgive you. It might be that your coldness of heart reveals itself in your ambivalence concerning the things of God. It’s certainly possible that you prefer your favorite television program or podcast to time alone with Him, and it would not be at all surprising to know that you prefer your sin to delighting in the mercies of His unfathomable grace. And then you probably have at least one or two relationships that are tenuous. Or maybe you have some serious dysfunction in your family that seems utterly impossible to unravel.  The problems seem to mount daily in this regard. What can I say to encourage you?

After Yahweh Elohim’s curse upon the serpent, and His sanctions against the woman and the man, He then remarkably and gloriously manifests His mercy and holiness. We find in Genesis 3:20 that Adam calls his wife Eve, which means “living”. She would be the mother of all the living. Though Adam had sinned and sought to cover the shame and guilt of his nakedness by sewing fig leaves as a loin covering, he now has renewed his relationship with God. How do we know that? Adam and Eve knew that God would put enmity between the serpent and the woman and between her seed and the serpent’s seed. Eve was to be the mother of all human life, but more specifically, she would be the mother of the godly seed, the godly line through whom Messiah and His followers would come. So Adam’s naming his wife Eve was a statement of faith.

We find in Genesis 3:21-24 God’s mercy and holiness. In verse 21 we are told that Yahweh Elohim took animal skins and covered the shame and guilt of Adam and Eve, thus prefiguring the animal sacrifices leading ultimately to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We find here a picture of reconciliation—God’s enmity with us has been removed (Colossians 1:15ff). It also portrays propitiation. God’s just wrath due to our sin has been taken away by the blood of Jesus (Romans 3:24ff). And it reveals expiation. The blood of Jesus assuages or washes away our sin (Colossians 2:13-14). In verses 22-23 we find God’s work of excommunication. He banishes Adam and Eve from the garden. At first glance this looks like a capricious act by a threatened deity. The text tells us that God expelled them from the garden because they had become like Him, knowing good from evil. This act is amplified in verse 24 where we are told that God placed cherubim east of Eden with a whirling sword-like flame to insure their continued exclusion. That’s because God did not want them to eat from the tree of life and live forever. God was not threatened by Adam and Eve becoming like the Triune God, nor was He concerned that they would eat from the tree of life and live forever. He says it this way because that is what Adam and Eve thought. They had believed the lie of the devil, had eaten the forbidden fruit, and thus had chosen to seek truth outside of God and His word. Due to their sin, they were living with the constant temptation that they could live forever if they could eat from the tree of life. Yahweh, in His mercy and holiness, thrust them from His presence and guarded the entrance to it in order to remove their delusion, to drive them back to Himself for mercy and grace, to make sure they did not seek it from anything they found in the world. 

How is it that you can gain a growing measure of victory over your mountainous pride, coldness of heart, and tangled relationships? You must daily cling to, believe in, and pursue the great truth of Exodus 34:6-7 where God says about Himself to Moses, after Israel’s sin of idolatry with the golden calf, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness and truth, who shows loving kindness to thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

If you are in Christ, then a profound work of mercy and grace is at work in you. The God of Mt. Sinai—who came down in a cloud and spoke with Moses, the One who is a consuming fire—has, is, and will continue to show compassion, loving kindness, forgiveness, and grace to you. Your problem with sin is that you think far too lightly of this marvelous and divine transaction wrought by the Triune God on your behalf. If, however, you are not in Christ, then regardless of how moral or kind you are, then you are under God’s wrath. He declares that He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. Sweet Jesus, the mild and gentle Savior, more clearly developed the doctrine of hell than any other Biblical character. Thirteen per cent of His words recorded in the gospels speak of it. Of the forty parables He spoke, one-half of them deal with it. And of the twelve times the Greek word for hell gehenna is used in the New Testament, Jesus owns eleven of them. He refers to it as a place where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies (Mark 9:48). Scripture makes constant reference to heaven and hell using symbolic language like streets of gold, gates of pearl, lake of fire and brimstone, outer darkness where there is gnashing of teeth. The reality, however, is far greater than the symbolism (1 Corinthians 2:9). I am warning you—if you die without repenting and believing the gospel of Jesus, then you will go to hell, a place of conscious, endless, torment. If you say you admire and respect Jesus, then you best heed His words. He would never lie to you.

I say all of this to put into perspective your life where pride, coldness of heart, and the seeming impossibility and tangled mess of your existence overwhelms you. If you are in Jesus, then nothing else really matters. When you begin to comprehend something of the magnitude of His grace, then your problems begin to melt away. On the other hand, all the success and money in the world will mean nothing to you if you die without Christ, for you will then see and experience the horrors of an eternal hell. 

So practically, what must you do to overcome your daily battle with pride? What must you do to ignite the flickering flame of holiness in your life? And what can you do in the midst of hopeless, deleterious relationships? Isaiah beseeches God, “Would Thou rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains may tremble at Thy presence, as fire causes the water to boil, as fire kindles the brushwood,” (Isaiah 64:1-2)? When you sin God comes to you by the Holy Spirit to convict you (John 16:8-11), but if you refuse to repent He will eventually leave you (Psalm 51:11). No, you will not lose your salvation nor will you lose the indwelling Holy Spirit, but you will lose a sense of His presence and power. You then grow cold to the things of God. You are ambivalent about them. You find greater joy in working a business deal or following your favorite team. You then are truly in trouble, for without the Spirit’s sanctifying presence you are exposed to the machinations of the devil and subject to your own sinful flesh and indwelling sin, not to mention the world’s allure. 

What must you do? You must repent and believe the gospel daily. You repented and believed when you were saved and you need to do it again and again. Come back daily, many times per day, to the glory of Christ’s reconciling, propitiating, expiating death. Ask the Holy Spirit to come down upon your life, bringing low your mountainous pride, igniting a holy passion in your heart so that the living water of Jesus will course powerfully through your soul, working supernaturally and redemptively to right the wrongs, to untangle the messiness of your hopeless marriage or ruined parent-child relationships. You have a God of great mercy and holiness, who by His Spirit can overcome any obstacle in your life. Your job is daily to repent of your sin and believe on Jesus, the great lover of your soul.


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