There is a fascinating passage in 2 Kings which tells us that, even during a time of idolatry and disobedience in Israel, God still had compassion on His people and intervened on their behalf. As the text states, “For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. But the LORD had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash” (2 Kings 14:26-27).
So, because God had promised not to destroy Israel completely, even though His people were so deserving of judgment, He still had mercy on them and saved them from destruction.
Could it be that He sometimes does the same thing for us, rescuing us from danger and helping us in times of trouble, even though we too deserve judgment? And could it be that we mistake His mercy and kindness for His favor and sanction?
It is all too easy to think, “Because the Lord healed me, my life must be right with Him.” Or, “Because God delivered me from the brink of financial disaster, He must be pleased with my decisions.”
But could it be that sometimes, He simply acts out of mercy? That sometimes, His motivation for delivering or helping or healing is sheer grace? That sometimes, He just wants to give us another chance?
I was speaking once to a wealthy woman who, on occasion, supported our ministry school and our larger gospel work. She was asking some probing questions, and I told her, “Well, it appears God is pleased with us, because He keeps meeting our needs, even when it seems there is no hope and no way to sustain the work. He is obviously with us.”
She replied, “Sometimes He just cares about the people,” meaning, that He didn’t want our ministry team and staff to suffer. That was certainly something to consider.
Paul addressed this as well, but speaking primarily to non-believers in this context. He wrote in Romans 2, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:1-5)
What a wake-up call to a self-righteous sinner. What a word of warning. What a divine insight.
After calling out human hypocrisy, by which we condemn others for doing the very things we justify in our own lives, Paul then asks this: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4, NLT)
Put another way, “You think that God must be pleased with you because you have not fallen under judgment. Because He has not destroyed you. Because everything seems to be going fine. What you don’t understand is that this is not a sign of His favor. It is a sign of His mercy and longsuffering. In short, He is not sanctioning your lifestyle. He is giving you time to repent and He is showing you how good He is. Don’t despise this! Otherwise, the more time He gives you, the more judgment you’ll be storing up for yourself in the future.”
How, then, can we be assured that we are living in divine favor, especially when, on many occasions, we will have to pass through tests and trials in obedience to His will? The answer is simple. We come to Him through the blood of His Son and then we align our wills and desires and decisions and life choices with His. We live in harmony with God.
When we do that, everything else will fall into place and His presence will be with us even through the storms. And when we step out in obedience to His will and He supernaturally backs us, we will know that this was not just mercy. It was confirmation.
The key is abiding in Him, which means walking in obedience to Him and fellowship with Him. As Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
So, don’t confuse God’s mercy with His sanction. Instead, determine to please Him in all you do. His smile will be your reward.