At the Beth Moore conference this past weekend, her main text for the three sessions was Exodus 34:6-7, where God, after being asked by Moses to show Himself and refusing, gives us a beautiful description of Himself. He calls Himself “‘The Lord, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…'”
As I listened to her teaching on each of these attributes, and then continued to mull them over in my mind over the past couple of days, my heart was just filled with the realization that I haven’t fully embraced some of these attributes of God. God describes Himself as merciful and gracious–meaning not only does He withhold the punishment that we do deserve, but He bestows incredible favor upon us that we don’t deserve. He says He is slow to anger and forgives iniquity and transgression and sin, which assures us that He’s not just waiting for us to mess up so that He can zap us. He tells us that He will keep His love steadfast, or maintain His love, which is a promise that He will guard His love for us and keep it ever constant, regardless of our actions or failures. What does it do to your heart to see God describe Himself in this way? I’ll tell you what it did to mine.
It made me realize that there is evidence in my life of unbelief in some of God’s attributes. He showed me that I carry so much guilt over our past poor stewardship in the area of finances, that it colors the way I look at current circumstances. Because I carry that guilt, I see every new thing that comes up that will require unplanned expenses (and life brings a lot of those situations in a family of six) as just another consequence, or maybe even punishment, for our past failures. But the Bible teaches that when God forgives, He throws that sin into the sea. This doesn’t mean that there will not still be consequences for sin, but He does not continue to look for ways to punish us for past sin. Why? Because for believers, our sin has already been punished once for all on the Cross. Therefore we can live each day with confidence. Confidence that, even though it is bound up in our human nature that we will mess up, God has promised to be slow to anger. Confidence that He loves to pour out mercy and grace upon His children. Confidence that He abounds in love and faithfulness. Confidence that He has promised to guard that love, keep it steadfast for a thousand generations. And confidence that He will indeed forgive our failures. Yes, there may be natural consequences that God allows us to face, but even in those consequences, He pours out His grace. Just to go back to my personal example–we are still making relatively large payments on our credit cards, but each month He is faithful to provide. He has not just abandoned us, even when our situation is due to our own sin. He is faithful, He provides, He keeps the promises of Who He says He is. So I will persevere to retrain my mind, to not just immediately sink into discouragement with every unplanned expense, to shake off the guilt and step into a walk of faith and trust and confidence that God will keep His promises to me.
But I also realized that confidence alone is not the proper response to these truths of God’s nature. Confidence alone could lead to being careless with God’s grace, being careless with the knowledge that He will indeed forgive. Confidence alone could lead to living like grace gives us a license to sin. Paul addresses this type of thinking in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (v 1-2) If the only mindset that comes from understanding the attribrutes of God is confidence, then it will be too easy to just carelessly and knowingly sin, in an arrogant confidence that God will forgive anyway.
No, confidence must be accompanied by astonishment. Astonishment comes from the heart of one who knows the depth of their depravity, and has yet been told that God loves them anyway. Astonishment looks upon God’s mercy and forgiveness and unmerited favor with awe, with reverence, with pure worship and gratitude. Astonishment alone is not enough either, because without confidence, astonishment could lead to disbelief in God’s promises and the assumption that they must not be true for me. I think this is where I’ve been living lately. I knew I had messed up, and although I never would have said it out loud or agreed with someone else who did, my mindset showed that part of me believed that God wouldn’t forgive that sin. I was astonished that God would forgive me, and because I lacked the confidence to grasp that promise, I’ve been living under the weight of doubting God’s words.
But when astonishment meets confidence, God’s promises will be received and believed with the proper mixture of awe, reverence, worship, and true freedom from the chains that have been broken. One who receives God’s promises with astonished confidence will never take them lightly. He will feel the weight of the cost of the grace being bestowed on him–the cost being Calvary. He will never abuse that grace by sinning freely under a guarantee of unlimited forgiveness. But he will also never walk under the weight of guilt over past sins. He will truly live like one forgiven. Even if he is still paying the natural consequences for his sin, he will understand that God’s love and grace is still present. He will realize that God abounds in love for him, and has promised to guard that love and never let it fade.
If you have one without the other, it will require a re-training of your thoughts to get out of the rut in which you’ve been walking. Preach to yourself. Repeat God’s promises straight out of His Word. Ask someone to hold you accountable when you start slipping back into old thought habits. A child of God should not be walking around under a cloud of guilt because he lacks confidence, nor should he be walking around being flippant with his own depravity and the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary. Let us do whatever it takes to discipline our minds to receive the love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and faithfulness of God with astonished confidence.