Over the past five years I have become more and more dissatisfied with the common theory that if we repent and believe or do as God says, then God will change His mind and instead of punishing us He will save us. As I look through the story of Jesus as recorded in the gospels it looks totally different. Jesus shows us that God is for us. Jesus showed us that He is not allergic to sinners, and instead is constantly pursuing relationship with us. Therefore, it is not God who responds to us, but we who respond to God.
Derek Flood writes about this in “Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor, Understanding the Cross from the perspective of grace rather than legalism“, he says,
It is not God who needs to be reconciled to us, but we who need to be reconciled to God.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you. (Colossians 1:21)
We are the ones who have enmity against God. And God’s response is to love his enemies,
For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)
God does not respond to what we do, we respond to what God does. God reconciles us and we have only to open our lives to it and welcome it in. God is not interested in our sacrifices, he wants our hearts, all of us. He is and always has been seeking a relationship with us,
“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God, more than burnt offering” (Hosea 6:6).
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51: 16-17).
God is not a distant judge in the sky, he is a God who has come searching for those who are lost. And in searching for us he is willing to break any rule, to endure any sacrifice, pay any price, endure any shame, just to get us back. The sacrifice was for us, not for God. Jesus did not die to appease an angry God; Jesus died for you and me, so we would finally wake up to the fact that God loves us and always has. Now that we have been reconciled to God through the cross, we are called by Jesus to “pick up our cross and follow” (Matthew 16:24) and the context in which this is said is not of us needing to appease God, but to join Jesus in the way of self-sacrificing love.
So often we live as though we need to meet some sort of standard before God will accept us. Maybe if we have more faith He will answer our prayers, if we are holy enough He we will give us more power, if we fast or sacrifice enough we will gain His favour, if we worship enough we may feel Him, if we try really hard He will sanctify us. But the gospel is the opposite. All other religions are about humans trying to appease god. But this is where Christ is different. He came to us. He came and sacrificed Himself for us to show us how He thinks about us.
God has made up His mind about what He wants to do to us. He wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4) His goodness is intended to bring us to repentance. (Romans 2:4) He is actually for us, not against us. When we realise this, there is never any question about whether God would accept you or not. God is holding out His hand saying “Take it. I’m yours!” Repentance is us responding to His grace and mercy. In this way, God does not respond to us, we respond to Him.
He loved us first. 1 John 4:19b