Friday, October 4, 2013

Ezekiel 35-36 Grace for God's Sake not Ours

Ezek 36:22-32 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. 'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel! 

If we truly understand God's motivation for the new covenant of grace, it would not make us smug and self-satisfied but deeply humbled.  God has shown us grace not to promote our happiness but to preserve the holiness of His name: "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes" (Ezek 36:22-23). God is jealous for His name--its honour and holiness--and is prepared to go to the extreme length of sacrificing His Son to restore the holiness of His great name which has been profaned because of Israel's sins.

While we may shake our heads at Israel for their almost incessant backsliding, we as new covenant believers must be careful not to become smug about ourselves but to look into the mirror so we do not fall into the same trap that Israel did--to think that God's grace was bestowed on them for their sake and to make them happy rather than holy. That is why St. Paul writes about the kindness and severity of God. To us it's like a theological contradiction but if we truly understand God's motivation for grace, we won't have difficulty accepting both aspects of grace - kindness and severity: "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" (Rom 11:21-22, ESV). Coming from the Apostle of Grace, this is surprising only if we fail to understand the divine motivation of grace.

The teaching of grace that focuses only on the kindness of God but ignores its severity is only half-truth. But when half-truth is repeated often, it becomes half-lie. It is God's zeal for His own name that is the foundation of His kindness and His severity. But thanks be to God that His zeal for His own name has meant salvation and divine favour for us who are sinners. And this same zeal for God's holy name should be the basic motivation for our life and ministry. That is why Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:9 that the first priority of prayer is "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name." NLT translates this verse as: "Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy."

While it's true that God's grace brings divine favour upon us, but we must remember that He does it for His own namesake, not ours. That may be humbling, and even ego-deflating, but that's what Christ requires of His disciples-- not to be smug and self-satisfied but to deny self, take the cross and follow Him.

Father, what amazing grace You have shown us in order that we might keep Your name holy. Amen.

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