Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Kindness of God that Leads to Repentance

Have you ever had a well meaning Christian suggest that you not speak to unbelievers about God's wrath or judgment; that such speech is divisive and may very well be counterproductive to the very thing you are attempting to accomplish? Have they further suggested that you simply let the world see Jesus through you, in your life and through kind actions? Have they ever used, "It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance." as proof-text for their position? If so and you've not known how to properly respond to this application of Romans 2:4, then keep on reading.

"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?" Romans 2:4

The first thing to look at with any verse that is used as a proof-text is to see the verse in its actual context. You'll immediately note that this portion of Scripture, which is so often quoted, is actually not even contained in the text. It is a clause contained within Romans 2:4 that has been modified to stand alone as a sentence. The problem with this is that when this clause is lifted out of its context it completely changes its intended meaning. This is not only made clear by reading the entire verse but further established by considering the surrounding verses.

So let's take a look and see why this common application of Romans 2:4b does not fit the text.

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?

It is clear, Paul was not saying that God grants repentance through the conduit of kind actions, he was saying that God is kind in that He does not crush us for our rebellion immediately. Paul was addressing the hypocrisy of those who were standing in judgment over others in the church while at the same time committing the very same sins as those whom they were condemning. He asked them a rhetorical question, " you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience [of God]..?" And then we come to our proof text,"..not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" So what is the kindness of God that is meant to lead us to repentance? Is it kind actions? No, the antecedent of the "kindness of God" is "the riches of His kindness, forbearance, and patience." In other words, Paul was saying, "The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty. You who are judging unrighteously are despising and showing contempt for this gracious patience of God; the very thing which is intended to lead you to repentance."

Obviously, to use Romans 2:4 as a suggestion that a faithful Gospel witness does not speak of God's wrath or judgment but rather shows the love of God through kind actions, simply does not work. Especially when you consider the following verse, Romans 2:5, where Paul speaks of God's wrath and righteous judgment.

"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."
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