Does the average Christian have an adequate grasp of God’s eagerness to forgive? How should the grace of God affect our leadership? How should preachers handle concepts such as God’s ‘immutability’? We asked Art Azurdia…
Listen to sermon (Jonah 3:10):
Do you think this is a foreign idea to many people; that God is eager and quick to forgive?
I think so, if only because the default position of the human heart is to think that we have to do something to earn God’s favor. We think we still have to do something to earn God’s happiness with us, over against Him being quick to forgive and quick to display mercy. I think that there are a lot of Evangelicals who do not think regularly about repentance, and likewise do not think of God being angry. But for those who do have a theology that recognizes that God’s holiness and righteousness are legitimate expressions of who He is, and would thus compel Him to be angry; to then think that God would be so quick to forgive, I think, is shocking and surprising.
How should this affect our own relationships? Our parenting? Our pastoring?
As a general rule, without being too specific, I think we have to be much quicker to forgive and much more eager to display graciousness and mercy to people, particularly in light of the way God displays mercy to us. Sometimes we are stingy with grace and mercy, and we display it with grudging attitudes, over against being very, very liberal. And it is difficult because we, ourselves, are fallen, and we distrust other peoples’ motives, simply because we know that ours are untrustworthy. But I think as a general course of action we need to be quick to display mercy and grace and forgiveness. And there will be serious cases- such as when someone repents after church discipline- where we need to quickly show grace, mercy, and forgiveness, even while we put boundaries and regulations in place that will provide necessary protections for the people of God. But these are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and forbearance must be a regular practice with us, as the Lord forgives a multitude of our own sins of which we are not even aware. It is always so sweet to declare God’s forgiveness. I get so excited to preach God’s forgiveness; I think because it relieves guilt, and it stimulates forgiveness in people who are engaged in sin and almost too afraid to seek forgiveness.
How does this text, which focuses on God’s relenting from anger, affect our understanding of God and his impassibility, or immutability? Are these helpful or unhelpful terms, especially in preaching?
I guess it depends on the congregation. Part of the difficulty is that the merit of the terms is dependent partially on the person using them. At the very least, if we are going to use those kinds of terms, we have to have a sentence or two explaining what they mean. I think I probably said something to the effect of, “Yes, God is immutable, but that does not mean He is static or immobile.” We have to unpack concepts like ‘relenting’ and ‘impassibility’, because we have some people- I don’t think a majority- who are very rationalistic, who might think that stressing God’s relenting will call into question God’s character. And they might twist the text to fit their rationalized views of what immutability is, so we have to explain what we mean very carefully. Furthermore, I do not think I would use a term like impassibility in a sermon, just because I think only a handful of people would understand what that term means.