“Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.” (Romans 11:19–24, ESV)
Think soberly about the kindness and severity of God
“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.” (Romans 11:22)
The kindness of God and the severity of God, these are like two divine counterbalances. Both are true in God. The kindness of God is the grace, love, and mercy of God.
But we must also consider the severity of God. The NIV translates it, sternness. The lexicon includes harshness. This side of God flows from holiness and justice. God was severe in his judgment on those branches that were broken off.
One of the great failures in evangelical Christianity is that we have distorted God by emphasizing only those qualities we like about God. We pick and choose the God we want and end up with a theology that looks like a Picasso painting; a weird, distorted deity. For example, we like his love, which is amazing and wonderful. But when you only think of the love of God void of his wrath at sin you don’t believe in the penal substitution of Jesus on the cross and end up with universalism. Everyone’s saved in the end. God is love, right?
There are some people who focus on God’s sternness apart from love and grace. Their churches are sad places where no one is allowed to smile. There is no grace in the church, no grace in their homes, because there is no grace in their God. He is all severity, which is also a distortion.
Here we see the amazing beauty of God in apparent opposite qualities in harmony within the true God. He is both love and wrath. Grace and severity. Mercy and judgment.
Why are both so critical? Perhaps you are here today and you are all about the love and grace of God. So much so that you quietly excuse sin in your life. So much so that you don’t really worry about your status before God or your eternity. Who cares? God loves me no matter what. My dear friend, that’s what the Jews thought and look at their broken off branches. You need to soberly consider the glory of the holiness of God.
But maybe you are here, and your conscience is constantly plaguing you. You have trusted in Christ; you have confessed, you have sought forgiveness from God and man, yet you still feel condemned. What character of God do you need? His kindness. His anger should make us serious and his love should make us joyous.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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