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God’s longsuffering

July 2013 | by Peter Jeffery

My wife had an accident in our car. It was not a bad accident and thankfully no one was hurt, but the insurance company decided that our eight-year-old Ford was a write-off. It was scrapped.

What if God was to say about mankind, ‘Enough is enough! I have had enough of their atheistic ideas and ungodly behaviour. Their religio-humanistic services are a stench in my nostrils. They are past redemption. Therefore, I will write them off and scrap them’?

We don’t believe it could ever happen, because today we have created a ‘god’ totally unlike the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. This god would never slap our wrists, let alone deal with us in wrath.  

Flood

But we forget there was a time when God looked at his creation and saw ‘how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time’.

So he said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created — and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground — for I regret that I have made them’ (Genesis 6:5-7).

As God looks today at mankind ruined by the ravages of sin, surely he must feel the same. That is why the New Testament language describing men and women in sin is extreme. Sinners are not sick, needing healing; they are not scarred, needing patching up; they are dead, needing new life.

Man’s problem is not moral or social; it is spiritual. He was made sinless and perfect, with a capacity for fellowship with and enjoyment of God, but sin shattered the image of God in man. Sin is not just a social hiccup; it is rebellion against the Lord and its consequences are horrendous.

It is true that God is love, but it is also true that he is holy. His love and holiness are never in tension; they blend in perfect harmony. God’s words and actions in Genesis 6 were a perfect reflection of his holy character.        

There is a tendency today to dismiss all this by claiming that the God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament. But that old argument never did hold much water, and those who believe it have never read the New Testament properly.

Patience

Listen to 2 Peter 3:8-10: ‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare’.

We ought to be thankful for the patience of God. This is his longsuffering, which enables him to sustain great insults from men without immediately smiting them.

‘Longsuffering’ is a very descriptive word. For a long time God suffers, endures, puts up with, the sin and rebellion of man.

This is not because he has no choice and can do nothing about our sin. Often we are forced to be patient, because circumstances are beyond our control; we have to grin and bear it. But it is not so with God; there is no possible circumstance where he is not in control. He is omnipotent.     

It is interesting that often the Bible couples the Lord’s longsuffering with his power. ‘What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath?’ (Romans 9:22); ‘the Lord is slow to anger and great in power’ (Nahum 1:3).

Peter tells us that God’s patience with sinners flows from his mercy: ‘He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’. The Lord takes no delight in judgement, so in his grace and mercy he gives sinners opportunity after opportunity to repent and seek forgiveness.     

Noah

Scripture abounds with examples of this patience. Perhaps the most striking is the case of Noah and the Flood, to which 2 Peter 3:6 refers. From the time when God announced his intention to flood the world, to when it actually happened, was a period of 120 years (Genesis 6:3). Peter says that throughout this period Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5).

But still the people would not listen, and God was longsuffering in spite of the strength of his feelings. ‘The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain’ (Genesis 6:6). For 120 years he was patient, but the people mistook his patience for indifference.

This is a foolish attitude in man. Ecclesiastes 8:11 warns us: ‘When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong’. And the Lord had clearly warned that his Spirit would not contend with man for ever (Genesis 6:3).

God’s longsuffering is not endless. Patience will eventually give way to justice. So the Flood finally came and the door of the ark was shut because it was too late for repentance.

This is still a day of grace and God has not written us off yet; he does not want man to perish. But man is responsible for his sin and, if he will not repent, then he will bring judgement upon himself.

The Lord’s patience is a result of his love and mercy, but his holiness makes it inevitable that this patience will not go on for ever. Patience is not tolerance. Even in his patience, sin grieves God and he never condones it.      

Amazing grace

Modern man does not believe in punishment for wrongdoing. We have abolished capital punishment; schools are not allowed to discipline badly behaved children; and we are told it is wrong for parents to smack their children.

It is taken for granted that God feels the same way. Because we don’t think we deserve punishment, any concept of grace becomes unnecessary. Grace has become redundant, with no need for ‘Amazing grace that saves a wretch like me’. If you don’t believe you’re a wretch, you’ll never delight in ‘Who is a pardoning God like thee, or who has grace so rich and free?’

But once you are convinced you are a sinner under the wrath and judgement of God, then grace will sweep you off your feet with wonder and joy, as it tells you how your Judge has become your Saviour.

In spite of our sin, God still loves us and seeks to remake us and destroy the influence of sin in our lives. The gospel tells us how God does this. In Ephesians 2:10 we are told that the Christian is God’s workmanship, and in John 3:3 Jesus uses the phrase ‘born again’ to describe how this work of remaking begins.

God sent Jesus Christ into this world to deal with human sin and save sinners. This Christ did by becoming the sinners’ substitute. He took the responsibility for our sin, and its guilt and punishment. The sinless Jesus faced the wrath of God instead of us. This is what the cross is about.

On the cross, death, the punishment for sin, fell on Jesus instead of us. The substitute bore the penalty we deserved.

The prophet Isaiah said of Christ, ‘He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities … by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each one of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquities of us all’ (Isaiah 53:5-6).  

Amazing message

Now, as a result of what Jesus has done, God is able to forgive us our sin. But, more than that, he makes us new creatures with a new nature and a renewed relationship with himself. The saved sinner is accepted as a child of God. The whole thing is incredible but true.

To guilty sinners comes the offer of a full pardon for sin and adoption into God’s family. Without this, we are in a hopeless, lost position.

This is the gospel and it is an amazing message. ‘And this is the testimony; God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’ (1 John 5:11).

Peter Jeffery