Have you ever had a Bible verse hit you in a whole new way, opening up wider vistas for you? It may have been a verse you’d read before, but this time the Spirit of God shone His light on it like never before, and you truly saw it for the first time.
I had that happen recently with this verse:
Let grace be shown to the wicked, yet he will not learn righteousness: In the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord. (Isa 26:10)
“Grace” – undeserved kindness from God. God seems to expect that, when He sheathes His flaming sword and extends kindness, people should respond in a certain way. They should learn righteousness…but in many cases they don’t.
So grace fails sometimes? God sends His grace to someone, and it does not achieve what God had hoped for. Right?
Grace does exactly what it is supposed to do. Yes, it is God’s instrument for saving those whom He saves. It kindly and forgivingly cleanses them and makes them new. But that’s not all it does. It also clearly differentiates legalists and libertines from reborn lovers of God. It reveals the thoughts and intentions of the heart. It shows whose heart has been changed, and whose heart remains in a sin-deadened state.
Look at it again. Think about it.
Let grace be shown to the wicked, yet he will not learn righteousness.
What is this indictment against the wicked? He does not learn righteousness from God’s gracious kindness! What does the wicked learn from God’s kindness, then? He may learn to revel in sin, trusting that he’ll get off scot-free. (That’s called being a “Libertine” or, in far too many cases, it’s what passes for a “Christian” in the freedom of the West.) Or he’ll invent legal systems and religious strait-jackets to force himself into a semblance of righteousness, because he can’t pursue righteousness without some kind of external pressure (that’s called being a “legalist”). Neither the Libertine nor the Legalist can learn righteousness from the liberty of grace, because when there is no coercion, people will do what they want to do. And wicked hearts want to do wickedness or, at best, to try inventing their own self-exalting righteousness. And God says that those who do not learn true righteousness from His goodness are called “the wicked.”
Only grace can miraculously change a heart so that it wants to do what is right and good and righteous and holy in the sight of God. And only grace reveals what kind of heart a person has!
Let me say it again. As long as grace is extended, people do what they want to do. Their actions are in perfect harmony with their hearts. People reveal who they really are, and who they really love, by what they choose to do when the flaming sword is sheathed. And this is why Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them (Matt 7:20).” This is why the Bible speaks of judging us according to our works.
Remember, Judgment Day is a public event. The most public event in all of history. God does not examine our works for His own benefit, in order to make up His mind. He already knows His own, because they were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), because He saved them decisively through Christ’s death on their behalf (Heb 10:14), and because He has sealed them as His own by His Spirit (Eph 1:13). But He will show His justice to everyone on that Day, and so there will be corroborating evidence shown to everyone there…to the Holy Angels, to the Fallen Ones, to other humans…evidence of whether a heart has been truly changed by a miraculous work of the Spirit. What will He show them as His evidence?
- A perfect life? No, none of us will achieve perfection in this lifetime (1 John 1:8-10).
- Slavish obedience? No, He’s not impressed with those who obey Him outwardly, but inwardly hate Him and love sin (Matt 15:8-9).
Then what will He present as evidence?
Do you remember when Satan came before God and accused Job of only being loyal to God because God blessed him (Job 1:9-11)? God refuted that claim by taking those blessings away. All of the Spiritual Beings and many mortals watched as Job vindicated God’s righteousness and remained loyal to Him even in his agony.
And all of the Spiritual realm (and many mortals) watch as God gives grace to the wicked and to the just, and lets them reveal their very different hearts by how they respond to it.
Ever since seeing and memorizing Isa 26:10, I’ve been hearing His heart-revealing grace telling me how fickle my love for God really is. And that’s a good thing to hear, because I can’t repent of what I don’t see. But how does one repent of such a sin? Isn’t it counter-productive to say you’ll try harder to live in grace?
Of course it is. So, as a redeemed soul wrestling with vestiges of legalism or lawlessness, what am I to do?
I am to pray for more life-changing grace. More grace to love Him as He deserves to be loved. More grace to obey out of love instead of coercion. More grace to learn righteousness in the vast open prairie of His liberty. More grace to be humble. More grace to be changed from the inside out. Grace given to me not so that I can use it to earn His favor, but grace given because I already have His (undeserved) favor. When tempted by sin, I am to pray for grace to resist…not slavishly, but as a freed, reborn soul.
And I am to rest on the promise that “He gives more grace” (Jas 4:6), the promise that His grace is sufficient (2 Co 12:9), and the promise that His grace saves even me (Eph 2:8).
How do you respond to His kindness…by wallowing in sin? By rejecting grace in favor of manmade coercion? Or by learning righteousness?
What is His heart-revealing grace telling you about yourself?