Isn’t it impressive how one sentence can change our perspective? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10) The feeling of dropping the ball at the most spectacularly critical moment of a match is akin to the emotion I feel as I read these kinds of verses.
A text like that may encourage, enthuse, restore others, but it elicits something more like ‘oops!’ from me. It’s not that I am constantly in trouble. I’m aware of my own shortcomings, and fall foul of that old despairing habit of comparison. Surrounded as I time and again am by some very pious saints, and with my wife’s gentle whisper echoing in my head, “be nice” it’s easy to feel I miss the mark. But, the fact is I do. And so do you.
This is where the gospel does its wonderful, restorative work. Not by telling me I’m pure, blameless and innocent, but there is someone who is… Jesus! He has imputed these qualities to me because of God’s unmerited favor toward me that was initiated despite my wicked rebellion against him. This act of bringing me into reconciliation with himself cost Jesus everything including His own sinless life. [
What’s radical is God loves bad people
It’s not that grace lets me off of the hook in terms of responsibility or culpability. Justice has to be done, rather; it is demanded – and that was fully manifest at the Cross when Jesus died, in my place, to reconcile me back to God. The radical fact is God loves us – we need to respond to that love and how it was demonstrated, but it’s not radical to say that God loves good people. Every religion does that. That’s what religion’s all about. Be good so God will love you. What’s radical is God loves bad people, and wants to change them; and is holding out the remedy for the evil that is in them. And that is good news.
Coming back to Jeremiah 17:10 It’s not that we should avoid texts like this (which incidentally are challenging and encouraging) but keep them in context and be aware of the bigger picture of the narrative that faces us. Every text in scripture is one that warns and draws. It never leaves you hopeless. Behind every text is grace and each verse prompts you to press into God, to taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Ps 34:8) Jeremiah 17:10 can cause hope to surge into our heart by knowing that God is watching us to bless us, not because of our righteous deeds, but because of who is at work in us and our longing to honour and glorify Him.
The attitude of our hearts grows more and more into “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:103)
God never intends on making it worse on us.
Whatever challenging verse we face, we do so with the knowledge that God plans for our good always, never trying to trip us up, kidnap us or take us hostage; his motives are above and beyond reproach. He wants the best for us. Be encouraged, He is leading us forwards, onwards. The Bible says in Psalms 37:23 “The steps of a good man are established by the LORD when he delights in his way; Though he fall, he will not be hurled headlong, For the LORD holds his hand.”
No matter how difficult a situation we find ourselves in, we know that God never intends on making it worse on us. Be encouraged, God has plans for us that reach into the distant future! He is leading you both in and out of your present dilemma or situation and will take care of all your needs. You don’t need to worry about ever running out of God’s grace, favour or kindness because God’s riches are infinite. The greatest things you can ever achieve won’t matter very much in comparison to eternity. His purpose is to always build our character up and to help us develop as people so that we can face future challenges with strength and faith. Be encouraged! Embrace this great song of David that Jesus himself sang.
“The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true, being altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them indeed Your servant is warned; in keeping them is great reward.” (Psalm 19:9-11)