God is a gracious God, not a lenient God.
Isaiah 6 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
10 “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
“Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate, 12 “The Lord has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 “Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, And it will again be subject to burning, Like a terebinth or an oak Whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”
In Exodus 33:17-23 there is an exchange between Moses and God. Moses asks to see the glory of God: The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” That is why the prophet Isaiah says: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” He knew that no sinful man could see the face of God or all His glory. That is the same reason that when the temple was constructed there was a veil between the holy place, where worship went up and sacrifices were offered, and the holy of holies, where the manifest presence of God resided. It was because sin so separates us from the holiness of God, that for our own sake there needed to be that veil of separation.
In today’s text we see what was done for the prophet: Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” The burning coal was taken from the altar of sacrifice. It took away Isaiah’s iniquity, his sin was forgiven. It is important to note that God did not bend the rules for Isaiah. Nor did He bend the rules for Moses. Because of sin, God says: “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” God didn’t change the rule for Isaiah, He changed Isaiah. God doesn’t change His mind or His rules. What was true is true., Even for us, living now, after the finished work of the cross, it is still true that as Romans 6:23 says: The wages of sin is death. Sin not only causes us to be separated from God, it also leads to death. Again even after the cross, God’s rules have not changed.
There are some who misunderstand grace. They confuse the grace of God with leniency. God is a gracious God, not a lenient God. Leniency means that you bend the rules to reduce the punishment for the offense. Grace means that even though the punishment for the offense remains in force and unchanged favor is given rather than punishment. The fact that we live under grace and not the law, has not made sin of no relevance. God is not lenient about sin because of the cross. He does not, has not changed. It is still true that, the wages of sin is death. As with Isaiah the rules and principles of God did not and do not change. It is we who are changed by God grace. Through the finished work of the cross our iniquity is taken away, our sins are forgiven. Matthew 27:50-51 describes what happened when Jesus was on the cross: Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. John 19:30 tells us what it was that Jesus cried out: “It is finished!” Because of the finished work of the cross, the veil that separated sinful man from the holy God was no longer necessary. It is not that God changed His mind and became lenient about sin. It is that by grace through the finished work of the cross, God changes us. We are forgiven. Our iniquity is taken away. In Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23 Jesus says: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Our cross is not a cross of sacrifice for sin. Jesus died for our sins, once for all. Our cross is a denying of self, actually a dying of self. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. God has not changed. He has not become lenient about sin. Romans 6:23 is still true, but the fullness of what it says is: The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. By God’s grace we are changed. We are forgiven, redeemed, we are made new. We are reconciled to God by grace.
We are no longer separated from God by sin. There is a scripture which says we can come boldly before God. Again though some misunderstand what that means. Hebrews 4:16 says: Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. It is only by grace that we can come boldly before God. If we presume on grace and remain in sin, if we think that God has become lenient about sin, if we approach God in any way other than having been changed by grace, it is not the throne of grace to which we come. If we are not seen by god according to grace then we will be judged according to our own works. We can come boldly to the throne of grace, but surely it is an ominous thing to stand before the judgment seat of Christ in our own works and righteousness. There is no leniency toward sin, only grace for those who believe in Christ.
In today’s text we see what happens next to Isaiah, after being
changed by grace: Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.” We too, because we have been changed by grace have been commissioned and sent with a message of God grace, not His leniency. In Mark 16: 15-16 Jesus says: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” God has not changed and become lenient about sin. But by His grace we are seen through the finished work of the cross. We have the righteousness of Christ if we believe.
Thank You heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit for Your grace. Although You are unchanging and the wages of sin is still death, by grace I am changed, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled and restored. I will go as You have sent me with the message of grace through the finished work of the cross. Amen.