Life on earth is the nearest the wicked will get to experiencing heaven and the nearest the righteous will get to experiencing hell.
Much as God hates divorce (Mal 2:16), he will not tolerate living with an adulteress wife. On the other hand God characteristically shows himself gracious to the repentant and so he calls her to return to him in repentance.
Jer 3:12,13 Go, proclaim this message toward the north: "’Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt— you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,’" declares the LORD.
Yet even in her unrepentant divorced state God still reckons himself her husband.
Jer 3:14,15 "Return, faithless people," declares the LORD, "for I am your husband. I will choose you— one from a town and two from a clan— and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding."
"To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
This is another characteristic of God's graciousness, namely that his graciousness does not lead to humiliation. For example it could be that a husband having divorced his wife for her adulteries, and then upon her repentance graciously welcomes her back but subjects her to humiliation and constant reminder of her sinfulness. God goes beyond that degree of graciousness by not only reconciling, but putting away his resentment and anger and treating her with compassion.
Likewise we read in Hosea of God's love for Israel despite betraying him like a harlot he says, "I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD." Hos 2:19,20
Is 55:6,7 Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
God's call is to the wicked. And as such the wicked are capable of seeking God. He earnestly desires they repent and be saved. For He "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." 1Tim 2:4 Yes, upon his repentence, his forsaking his lifestyle of sin and his sinful thoughts and intentions, God justifies the wicked by faith. "To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." Rom 4:5 Works of repentance do not earn one salvation, but indicate the quality of faith that saves.
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."Rom 4:6-8
Is 57:15-19 For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me— the breath of man that I have created. I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near," says the LORD. "And I will heal them."
Notice that God takes initiative in guiding people into repentance. Much more so does he accept the repentant, even much to their surprise. To those who are far from God He sends a message of peace, contingent of course upon their repentance. Though everyone at some time or another experiences calamity in their lives due to their sin, God's intention is to bring people to repent of their sins and turn to God experiencing his graciousness.
Jer 33:8 I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
God's grace is that he does not treat us as our sins deserve. And when he forgives sin, they are forgotten. Indeed on the judgement day if God asks "Why should I let you into my kingdom?" The Christian could respond, "Why not?" For sins having been forgiven they are forgotten and are no longer on the books. Indeed the very pages of our lives which contain sin are burned up and vanish.
"If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved" 1Cor 3:14,15
The LORD Jesus willingly took upon himself the punishment of which we deserved to atone for our sins. That's grace!
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
But Jonah knew how gracious God was. And he didn't want God to be gracious to them. He was afraid that they would repent and God would forgive them. So he ran away. Later when God strongly influenced him (shall we say?) to go back and preach to the city, indeed they repented and God forgave them. At this Jonah said, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."Jonah 4:2
If people repent it seems there's no limit to God's graciousness. So let us be of the same spirit.
Daniel interpreted a dream God gave the king saying, "This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue." Dan 4:23-27
God graciously gave him a whole year to repent. But he neglected to do so, finally saying, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, "This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times (years) will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes." Dan 4:30-32
But after 7 years of punishment this pagan king declared, "I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth." Dan 4:34,35
If God can do that with such a person, maybe he can do likewise for your unbelieving friends or relatives.
The covenant of Law was one of works. And "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Deut 27:6 But the New Covenant is a covenant of Grace, which was not a performanced based righteousness, but rather a promise that for those under the covenant God would transform their minds and hearts to know the Lord personally. And he would disregard their sins, forgetting them altogether. This New Covenant Jesus established by his blood as he said at his last passover meal, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." Lk 22:20
For the Israel of God it is written, "In those days, at that time," declares the LORD, "search will be made for Israel’s guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare." Jer 50:20
The gospel is all about God's graciousness to sinners.
Rom 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
God's grace goes beyond simply forgiving sinners. Having been reconciled to God we shall certainly be saved from all aspects of sin.
Eph 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
How rich is God? As He is rich, so he dispenses the forgiveness of sin. For those who are qualified through faith in Jesus, there is no limit to the forgiveness of sins. Though we may have doubts about our part, we need not have any doubts that God will be abundantly gracious as He promised.
This is God's purpose for us - to reveal the degree of his graciousness by his expressed kindness to us. That is the meaning and purpose of human existence - to glorify God by being objects of his graciousness. So glorify God by allowing him to be gracious to you and tell others of the abundance and availability of God's grace.
Early on we see the apostles themselves struggle with the grace of God. Jews, even the apostles at first, looked down upon Gentiles as excluded from receiving the grace of God. But God is not prejudice in dispensing his grace. He called Cornelius, a Roman soldier, and his family to be the first Gentile Christians, but had to give Peter a special vision just to get him to preach the gospel to Cornelius. Peter finally came to the realization of God's grace saying, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Acts 10:34,35 Likewise there was later a struggle concerning whether legalistic requirements would be required of Gentiles Christians, but the grace of God prevailed.
Therefore glorify God by attributing his grace as being dispensed without prejudice.
1John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
Acts 2:38 Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off— for all whom the Lord our God will call.
Col 3:23,24 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Col 1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
Having come to faith in Christ, God qualifies us for much more that just the forgiveness of sin. For example he qualifies us to be called children of God (a status exclusive to the elect and not to the world). He imparts his Holy Spirit to us to dwell in us. He promises a future inheritance fit for kings. In fact in its time "no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless." Ps 84:11b And he does this all gladly to glorify his gracious nature.
Zacchaeus was not the kind of man that people looked up to as an example of a righteous man, but rather whom they looked down upon as a sinner, and rightly so. Jesus describes him as a man who was lost, without salvation. But that's the kind of person Jesus came to save.
However notice again that while Jesus gratiously takes initiative in calling on this man, the offer of salvation itself is not unconditional. It is contingent upon repentance - such as we see here with Zaccheus who took practical steps at making amends for sins of omission and sins of commission.
But notice also that Jesus declared him "saved" at the very declaration of his intention to repent, prior to its being carried out. When a person sincerely intends to repent of his sins and believe in Jesus, it is at that point they are saved. For a person is saved not by works of righteousness, but by faith. Though there is a correlation between the two.
The first criminal wanted only to escape the consequences of his sin without acknowledging his guilt. The second acknowledged his guilt and affirmed God's judicial nature in the punishment of sin. But his request which showed his faith in Jesus was a plead for grace in the afterlife. And grace was granted.
Dr. Charles R. Erdman comments on this event saying:
(Sacrementalism was refuted, for the thief was saved without recourse to baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church, ceremony, or good works.
The dogma of purgatory was refuted, for this vile sinner was instantly transformed into a saint and made fit for paradise apart from his personal expiation of a single sin.
The teaching of universalism was refuted, for only one was saved of all who might have been saved.
The notion of soul-sleep was refuted, for the clear implication of the entire incident is that the redeemed thief would be in conscious fellowship with his Saviour in paradise even while his body disintegrated in some grave.
it is doubtful whether any other gospel incident presents the plan of salvation more clearly or simply)
Why did God chose Paul? He chose him as a precedent of grace. Salvation was not granted apart from repentance. But through Paul we note that God's invitation extends to all - regardless of their past.
Consider the grace given to Paul. Not only was he given salvation and all that comes with it. He was given a prominent place in the ministry. And his letters compose much of the New Testament. So if you feel unworthy as a Christian to do ministry, follow the precedent Paul set as the chief of sinners and stop with the lame excuses. God gives grace to all believers to do effective ministry regardless of their past. And work hard at it.
1Cor 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them— yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
What effect has the grace of God had on you?
There are those who reckon God's grace gives them a license to sin. Oh they may accept Jesus as Savior, but deny him as Lord. But "he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2Cor 5:15 There are those who see repentance, obedience and the pursuit of holiness as optional to the Christian life, reckoning the God wants us to sin so that he may glorify his graciousness by overlooking our sins. "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" Rom 6:1,2
Or there are those who start of the Christian life in repentance, but if they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." 2Peter 2:20-22
"These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life." Jude 1:19-21
"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs." Jonah 2:8
While cynics may claim that the grace of God implies a license to sin, in fact the grace of God teaches just the contrary. For the hope it invokes in view of the promise of eternal life motivates one to godly living. The promised inheritance is not just a promise of forgiveness, but also a promise for freedeom for sinfulness itself. There will not be sin nor the temptation to sin. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." 1Peter 1:3-5 Likewise the grace of God frees us from putting our hope in the material or temporal. There will be no need for money, food, transportation or the like. There will be no insecurity or other things which in the present age the world makes into idols or as motivations to sin.
Paul also writes, "What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be! Don't you know that to whom you present yourselves as servants to obedience, his servants you are whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?" Rom 6:15,16
So why be slaves to sin? What has sin ever done for you but brought corruption. The grace of God ensures a fate free from sin. So let's prepare for that destiny by living appropriately as children of God.
What has the grace of God taught you?
If God is gracious to his enemies, so are his children. Now don't confuse being gracious with unconditional forgiveness. Remember that God is gracious, but his forgiveness is condtional. "Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed." Rom 2:4 Thus one way to be gracious to one's enemies is to tolerate abuse and yet respond with kindness with a view towards their repentance. Practicing graciousness is not about you getting something out of it. It's about the other person. Christ died for the sins of the world, but such grace was wasted on many.
Likewise we should be gracious not expecting anything in return. "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." Luke 6:35 Grace is not fair. You give to your enemies and you may not get anything back. That's been God's experience. But that's grace.
Have you gotten a taste of grace? If you have come to know Christ you've gotten more than a taste. For "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord." 2Peter 1:2 And how much more grace is available if we grow to maturity in our relationship with the Lord, even in the midst of difficulties, "the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." 1Peter 5:10
This is the purpose of the Christian life - to glorify God by experiencing his grace. For "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." Eph 2:6,7
2Thess 2:16,17 "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."