How Does the Kindness of God Lead to Repentance?

In this series of posts I have been looking at some examples of misinterpreted Bible passages.

I have been emphasizing the importance of grasping the clear intended meaning of the Biblical writer.  Any meaning in the Biblical text that God has for us today will not be in contradiction to the intent of the original writer.

Here’s a good example of a text often quoted today:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

This partial text is often used by those who don’t believe that people need to be confronted regarding their sin.  “People already know they are sinners. You don’t bring people to God by talking about their sin. You must show them God’s love.”  While I agree that people need to truly understand the love of God, I do not think this is really a biblical approach.

Is this what Paul intended for his readers to take home?  I say it is not. The emphasis in this section of Scripture is actually NOT God’s kindness, but a warning of taking His kindness, tolerance and patience for granted. And why is this a problem? Because according to Paul, God is about to judge sin. Millions are going to miss the window (“today”) to get right with God and will soon face His holy wrath, and with no Savior to intervene.

It is true that if a person is truly under conviction for her actual sins, she doesn’t need more condemnation heaped on her. What she needs at that point is to understand the wonders of God’s grace.  But that’s an important “if”.  Most people have little or no understanding of the enormity of their guilt before God.  When that understanding starts to grip a man’s heart, conviction increases, and that soul is humbled and undone. He begins to deeply understand his need for forgiveness.

In Romans 2, Paul is clearly NOT saying, “Don’t talk about sin or judgment, just lift up the love of God.  It’s only the message of God’s kindness that has the power to bring people to Christ.”

Actually, he is warning people about being hypocritical and pointing out other people’s sins and not realizing that God is going to judge them as well! The passage is a sober warning of impending judgment.

And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. (Romans 2:2)

To Paul, God’s kindness is NOT about the absence of judgment, but about the certainty of it.  Any attribute of God, if removed from the others, can become idolatrous in the hands (or mind) of humans.

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:5)

Yes, this is the same passage of Scripture! And, no, Paul is not schizophrenic. He keeps warning people of the reality of God’s wrath and righteous judgment.  This is very clearly the theme of this section of Scripture. Here’s a parable that will help explain it:

If you know that five miles ahead in the road is a huge ravine, and that every car that speeds that way will end up in destruction, you are a fool to continue in the same direction.  The fact that you have been made aware of the danger ahead, coupled with the reality that there are several miles in front of you for making a turn around, should compel you to stop the car and do so – BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

For Paul, the kindness of God is wonderfully connected with His other attributes: like patience and wrath.  Though we all deserve His wrath and judgment, He is holding back His powerful righteous anger and giving us an undeserved window of time to repent.  But if we do not repent, we are spurning His amazingly kind offer and will have nothing but wrath to look forward to.

This is a far cry from the, “Don’t talk about their sins. Don’t warn them about judgment. All they need to know is God’s kindness.”

Paul understood (like Peter did – 2 Peter 3:7-9) very clearly that God’s kindness and patience have almost no value, without the backdrop of His coming righteous judgment.

This is a far cry from the way these verses are commonly misinterpreted. Have you been guilty of over-emphasizing one aspect of God’s nature at the expense of others?  In today’s climate, there is much more pressure to erase God’s holiness and judgment than anything else.  Everyone on the street will agree that, “God is love.”  But few want to meditate on God as the righteous judge who is coming to judge every person.

More next time.

5 thoughts on “How Does the Kindness of God Lead to Repentance?

  1. Ernest says:

    Considering Romans was written to the Pharisees who lived in Rome I would say that Paul was setting them up to fall into the trap of being judgmental in Romans 1, then Romans 2 he forces them to look at the 4 fingers pointing back at themselves. Yes, God judges. And He is very loooooong-suffering which He shows over and over again (think Hosea among others). I do not know if you intended to leave out the second half of verse 1: ‘everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself;for you who judge practice the same things.’ or then bringing both the hopelessness of works-based theology and the hope that salvation by grace brings in 10-12… that it is truly His grace and kindness that brings us to repentance and not the law, nor judgement. True we cannot ignore that judgement will happen, but if we focus on judgement we trap people in their sin even as the Pharisees. This is what Jesus was much more angered by than anything else… that those who were given to lead the sheep were not setting people free, but keeping them in bondage was the entire point of the first part of Romans if taken as a whole and realizing who the intended audience was. It is not my place to judge, but this article feels like it is focusing more on Judgement than on Grace in an effort to confront a perceived overly grace-filled argument.

    Consider which brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son came in to enjoy the feast. Which brother was the more lost? At what point did the father in the parable judge either? Again I repeat myself, His just judgement will come. But it is not my job to do so, nor to come across as the one who will, rather to emphasize 1. the justice of God, and 2. His Grace, but only through the Love that He gives through His Holy Spirit… never in malice, nor indignation, but with compassion. Likely those who lean toward emphasizing Grace do so because there are those who over-emphasize judgment. Some sow, some water, some harvest.

    Witnessing is the great commission, but it should always be administered in light of the two great commandments.

    Grace and peace be unto you, brother.

    • great points, and thanks for taking time to comment, Earnest. I agree that an over-emphasis on judgment, leaving out the glory of God’s grace, leaves people hopeless and in bondage.

      My point is that regardless of who you think Paul’s primary audience is (he actually addresses the letter to Gentiles, see 1:5,13-14), his actual comments about God’s kindness leading us to repentance…gains it’s weight and urgency…from the backdrop of the reality of God’s coming judgment. Patience then is not like my mother, who simply will never discipline her grandchildren. She just lets them mostly do what they want and then hands them back to us! No, patience with God, is this amazing looooong-suffering in which He holds back the cerrtainty of a deserved coming judgment, so that people can leave all their excuses and religiosities, and flee to the grace and love of Christ.

      but this is not at all the “gospel” you hear across mainstream America today. God is too kind to judge. God would never send someone to hell. He’s too good to ever get angry. He’s more like a therapist that doesnt’ confront sin, but rather has discussions about my problems and issues. My point is that Paul was NOT saying anything like this. It was the reality of a very real judgment in the future, that ought to make us get serious about all sin, especially the self-righteousness that lurks hypocritically in all of us (as you very ably commented).

      Thanks again for helping to clarify. There is certainly a ditch on either side of the road. Let us avoid both.

  2. Well said,

    “It is true that if a person is truly under conviction for her actual sins, she doesn’t need more condemnation heaped on her. What she needs at that point is to understand the wonders of God’s grace. But that’s an important “if”. Most people have little or no understanding of the enormity of their guilt before God. When that understanding starts to grip a man’s heart, conviction increases, and that soul is humbled and undone. He begins to deeply understand his need for forgiveness.”

    Thank you for sharing, this helps me. Since the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment it really should be the Holy Spirit who prompts us to share the gospel at ‘the right time’ with His Words. Only God knows “if” the person is truly under conviction, we don’t. We see signs but we need His help to reveal if we should deliver grace talk or hard truth in love about their sin.

    • thank you for a very thoughtful comment. I certainly appreciate how you are submitting your heart and mind to the Word of God and seeking to keep in step with the Lord as you minister to others.

  3. Gary jacques says:

    I get it….there are certain churches that seem omit the concept of how serious sin is. These focus on the Love of God. Jesus, full of grace and truth. The truth of our sin how it has separated us from God and grace. Grace as a result of the love of God. I have trust issues and desperately want to know the love that Jesus gave. Eph 18-19. I need to realize it…to KNOW it…I go to two churches… One that has a loving congregation and a pentecostal church that challenges Spiritual be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man. Eph 3:16.. Amen bro?

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