And you gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. And they entered and took possession of it. But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do. Therefore you have made all this disaster come upon them. – Jeremiah 32:22-23 ESV
Sometimes a little bit of reflection can go a long way. Jeremiah had taken time to look back on Israel’s long relationship with God and had recalled the faithfulness of God. He had remembered all that God had done for them as a people. From the moment He had called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees to the day He had appointed David the king of Israel, God had been there for nation of Israel. He had promised them the land of Canaan and He had made good on that promise. When they had taken possession of the land God had reminded them, “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13 ESV). He had done these things, not because they had deserved it or had earned it, but out of His grace and mercy and in order to fulfill His word.
And how had they responded to the kindness of God? With disobedience. In exchange for His unmerited favor and undeserved love, God had simply asked that they treat Him with the dignity and respect He deserved. He expected them to stay faithful to Him alone and worship no other gods beside Him. He gave them laws to follow that would set them apart from all the other nations and protect them from committing sins that could result in their own harm and destruction. But as Jeremiah so sadly recalled, “But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do.” They had returned God’s faithfulness with unfaithfulness. They had repeatedly disobeyed, disrespected and dismissed God, treating Him as irrelevant, replaceable, or even optional in their lives. And now they were about to reap the results of their long history of ingratitude and insubordination. God was not going to tolerate their behavior any longer.
Sometimes, in our obsession over the grace and mercy of God, we can tend to neglect the doctrine of God’s holiness. We can forget that God is holy in all His ways and cannot tolerate sin. Yes, He is able to offer forgiveness and extend mercy to mankind because of the sacrificial death of His own Son. But Christ’s death did not diminish the seriousness of sin, it simply provided a payment for the penalty. In fact, the death of God’s Son provides us with some idea of just how serious God takes sin. The only payment He could accept that would satisfy His own need for justice and cover the steep price to cover the penalty due for the sins of mankind was the life of His own sinless Son. When we look back at the history of Israel and see God bringing destruction on the people He had chosen as His very own possession, we should be reminded of just how much God hates sin. He couldn’t just overlook it and dismiss it. He couldn’t just say, “Boys will be boys” and act as if it was not that big a deal. Sin was and always will be a bid deal to a holy, righteous God. Sin is an affront to His character. It is rebellion against His sovereign rule. It is a slap in the face of God by the ones He has made and who exist only by His grace and mercy.
As believers, while our sins have been paid for in full by Jesus, that does not give us the right to act as if our sins no longer matter or carry no weight. Paul had to deal with this kind of illogical thinking when he wrote to the Christians in Rome. “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not!” (Romans 6:15 NLT). In fact, Paul had told them, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace” (Romans 6:12-14 NLT). As those who had benefited from the grace of God made possible through the death of His own Son, they were to take sin seriously and treat God with the gratitude and respect He deserves by glorifying Him through obedient, righteous living. God’s grace is not a license to sin. It is a gift to be appreciated and treated with great honor and respect. God paid a high price in order for us to enjoy a right relationship with Him. He gave His own Son and made it possible for us to exchange our sin for His righteousness. He died so that we might live. Our sins were the cause of Christ’s death. His death was the cost required for our salvation. Our obedience is the least we could do to express our thankfulness for all that God has done. Our hatred and rejection of sin is a great way to let God know just how much we love and appreciate Him.