Right now God is in a state of holding back, or rather as Romans 2:5 says “storing up” His wrath while His enemies roam the earth. His wrath is kindled; it may now be pressing in on them, but is not yet being fully poured out on living people. As long as a person has breath they are experiencing God’s amazing mercy every single day.
We have discussed that God feels anger towards unregenerate men while they live. But what other feelings might He have towards them? What is His heart for the people of this earth?
(Sections 5-9 of this series already has more thoughts on this, but I want to back up and go deeper)
2Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
1Timothy 2:3-4 “God our Savior… desires all people to be saved and to come the knowledge of the truth.”
Arminians use these verses as ammunition against the idea that God had particular, chosen people in mind when He sent Jesus to the cross. Some Calvinists have shallow thinking, and sweep these verses aside saying “all” or “any” only ever refers to chosen people.
But God’s delight, desire, longing, and heart is that every knee would bow before Jesus Christ before the Judgement Day. Many of us, in our attempt to “protect” God’s sovereignty have done people a great disservice by diminishing the emotions God experiences towards those who are walking towards eternal destruction. We have unbiblical notions about an indifferent God withholding salvation from “unchosen” people, without a hint of concern about their welfare. Some think of the gift of salvation as something God grants only out of hard determination void of passion, depth of love, rich satisfaction, and joy.
Why must we make God smaller? We take the Potter and try to meld him into a clay image that we can fit our hands around. One exalts the love of God as though it trumps His sovereign right to do with humans whatever He pleases. Another preaches God’s sovereignty in such a way that men have become helpless pawns on a chessboard, and God an aloof dictator knocking down whoever He wants.
This is not the heart of God revealed in scripture. Don’t withdraw your emotions when you read these words; rather close your eyes and think about God’s heart revealed in them.
Romans 10:19-20 “‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
First we see that God seeks out gentiles and reveals Himself to a people who have no interest in Him. What is His heart in this? Is it so that He can say “Ahah! You selfish people, I have saved you in spite of yourself!”
No. Rather with tenderness, joy and anticipation He says “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called sons of the living God’ (Romans 9:25-26).” When He claims someone He calls them “beloved.” Those He once rejected, He now adopts and calls “sons of the living God.”
But what about those who were not saved- in this case the larger part of Israel?
“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
Does God invite all sinners to come to Him? Would He, though in control of their hearts, yet plead with them?
Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you would not!”
Isaiah 55:1 “Come, everyone who thirsts…”
John 7:37 “If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink.”
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me all who are heavy laden…”
When the Lord pleads with people to come to Him, He cast His net over the whole earth. He emphasizes mankind’s responsibility to come to Him, even though Jesus said “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him (John 6:44).” Yet He never preached, “Come to me, whoever is chosen. Wait for me to incline your dead heart to believe.” He appeals to our conscience, our guilt and our felt need of Him.
When He preaches the cross He doesn’t say “And here is good news for whoever is predestined.” He says “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32).” When the angel announced his birth he said “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Lest we forget, Jesus is the one who said “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
If God is in sovereign control of souls, does that make His appeal to all mankind fake? Is he only humouring people when He gives the command: “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live (Isaiah 55:3).” Or “Make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
Randy Alcorn discusses this issue in his book “If God Is Good”: “God extends a genuine, not a pretend invitation to choice-making people to come to him. They can do so as he sovereignly empowers them… Sinners should choose to repent, yet only God grants saving repentance… Our problem is both our unwillingness to understand and our incapacity to turn our wills toward God.”
I believe God’s sovereign control is beautifully revealed alongside man’s responsibility to respond in Matthew 13. In verse 11 Jesus says to his disciples “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” God is the only one who can unveil kingdom secrets to spiritually blind people. He does this as it pleases Him: “The Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it (John 5:21).”
Yet, look at the explanation Jesus gives for this people’s blindness and unbelief:
“You will indeed hear, but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them (Matthew 13:14-15).”
To this people God sent prophets. They killed them. To this people God stretched out His hand all day long and gave the “adoption, the glory, the covenants, the…law, the worship…the promises… the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh…Christ who is God over all (Romans 9:4-5).” This Christ healed their diseases, He preached good news, and they wanted to destroy Him. In fact, they gave it their best effort.
We must never dare use these scriptures in Matthew to prove how “unwilling” God is to save people, but rather how unwilling man is to repent. His patience is not short friends, it is unfathomable. Would you hold out your hands to a bride all day long who showered your gifts on other lovers, sacrificed your children to demons, ignored you and forgot you? Read the book of Hosea. Read Psalm 78 and 106 and you will see that this is exactly what God did.
What are we seeing here in Matthew? First, that God must open up hearts to understand spiritual truths. But notice these words: “Their eyes they have close, lest…”
Jesus stands before them, truth and grace pouring from His lips. A blind man sees, the crippled man walks, a dead man leave his tomb, and they shut tight their eyes.
Stephen preaches to them their guilt, and says “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).” What was their response? “They were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him… they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him… and stoned him (Acts 7:54,57,58).”
Man does not need God to actively harden their heart to the gospel. We are perfectly capable and so inclined to close our own eyes, harden our own hearts, and stop our own ears. He does not force men to resist the Holy Spirit; they do it themselves.
Is there a time when God so puts His hand upon a man’s heart so as to confirm it’s hardness and seal them over to their willful unbelief and corrupt desires? Yes. “He hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:18).” “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind (Romans 1:28).”
See that it is people, not God, who receive blame for their lack of belief and response to Him. It is their own corrupt nature and desire that seals their condemnation.
John 3:18-19 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”
Look once more at Matthew 13: “Their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them (Matthew 13:14-15).”
Dear friends, again I say “God is not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If they would see, if they would hear, if they would incline their heart this day, He says “I would heal them.” Is it true that they cannot do this? Absolutely (see Romans 8:7, 1Corinthians 2:14). But don’t miss the other fact- they have freely refused to accept and believe the truth.
So what is God’s heart toward the living dead? I believe it is salvation.
He will be revealed as Awesome, Mighty, Righteous, and Just every time He casts sinners to Hell. These are hard words, but they are undeniable. A terrible day of judgement is coming, and God will ultimately accomplish the intent of His heart without reason for remorse. However, for those alive on this earth, today is a day of repentance, and now is the opportunity to respond to God’s loving calls and receive mercy. God “does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men (Lamentations 3:33).” That is to say He does not execute justice cheerfully or from the heart. It is not God’s passion or delight to say “depart from me (Matthew 7:23).”
When I ask “what is God’s heart?” I am really asking, “What is God’s delight and most glorious purpose for spiritually dead mankind?”
I want to end with these two scripture verses and come back again to discuss this further:
Isaiah 53:11 “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant; make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”
Hebrews 12:2 “Jesus… for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.