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  • David A. Case

Leniency


“Leniency.”

Yes. That is what she said in response to what to my question about the meaning of grace. I decided to leave her response alone until a second response came that was similar. With the second answer, much like Jeremiah (20:9) there was a fire lit inside of me!

Too much of our culture sees God as “the Big Guy in the sky.” Much the way Greek mythology viewed the gods, God is temperamental. On a whim, He calls this one home. He allows that one to die. A murder here. Mayhem there. God is a god who does whatever he wants with no restraints.

Leniency implies that God is free to “go easy” on this person while coming down hard on the next one. Is that really who God is? And is that truly our definition of grace?

To be fair, there are several places in Scripture that highlight the sovereignty of God where God does say that He gets to do whatever He wants to do. But we never see the God of the Bible throwing temper tantrums the way that the gods of mythology would. Instead, we see a God who warns the people of consequence, warns again, generally warns again … and maybe again and then follows through.

“Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless he reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7, NKJV). Jesus adds, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, NKJV). If anyone is willing to be a “friend” of God, He is more than willing to speak. To those who will listen, He gives warnings!

Those who get to know God realize that He does not operate from a point of leniency. He doesn’t make arbitrary choices to “go easy” on this one or that one. He operates from a point of view where He is working for the greater good. When He has “friends” who will partner with Him, He can pour His life into a situation and yes, it does look like He is “going easy” on the person or situation.

But God is a righteous God. He is just. He can’t just “go easy” on sin. Someone pays. God didn’t just excuse sin or even allow animals to be the payment for sin. He took on humanity and became the payment for sin. Jesus paid.

When we partner with God, we take on the mission of Jesus. Romans 8:17 says that we become children of God and even joint heirs with God “if indeed we suffer with Him.” God can’t be lenient. Someone pays. If there is a righteous man who will lay down his life, someone else can receive the benefit of that sacrifice. That is mercy on the part of the one who receives the benefit, but it is not leniency.

If sin were no big deal, God could do whatever he wanted. He could be lenient. But sin is sin because it is destructive. With Adams first sin, he became insecure, hid from God, and blamed the woman. The destruction had begun. Restoration could only come with a price tag attached to it.

When we are willing to partner with God in the work of restoration, we become “friends” of God and partners with God. But that means we must be willing to lay down our lives for others and for the good of all. That means we must suffer.

This culture has shifted to a gospel where pain is evil and pleasure is good. We spread the gospel by using images of unparalleled bliss if we only come to Christ. Is it any wonder that our idea of God is hoping for leniency?

Partnering with God means doing whatever it takes to reverse the ugly effects of sin. In my work with addicts, that means being lied to, cursed at, stolen from, and generally used. If I chose to focus on these things, it would feel like a life of suffering. But our God is a redeemer. I get to partner with Him in the work of changing lives. I get to see families put back together. I get to see people who were discarded to the ash heaps become healthy and vibrant examples of the goodness of God.

Those who see God in terms of pain and pleasure will never enter into this kind of work. They will seek what feels good and will never be able to hear God, nor to partner with Him in a way that changes lives. God is not lenient with me. In fact, I am more restricted that most people I know. Judgment truly begins with those who love God (1 Peter 4:17). As a righteous person, we are not just confronted with our own sin, but we are called to pay the price for the sins of others.

I guess you could say that those on the receiving end of someone’s sacrifice are getting leniency. But doesn’t that cheapen the concept of leniency? Somebody pays. Jesus paid. The righteous pay. The ugliness of sin is real, creating negative outcomes that must be overcome. To overcome the outcomes of sin there is a price called pain and sacrifice.

When someone else has to suffer so that I might be blessed, that is not mere leniency. Life is not a lottery where someone gets something for nothing. That is not the God we serve, nor the life we live. God has paid. We get to be blessed. Will you live a life that pays for others even as you have received better than you deserve?


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