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How to React to Warnings in the Bible

How to React to Warnings in the Bible

Warnings can be confusing

Let’s face it, warnings are scary. In the Bible, we see warnings about the dangers of wealth (Matthew 19:24; 1 Tim. 6:10; and a lot more), patterns of behavior that indicate our hearts are ruled by sin (1 Cor. 6:19-21), distractions from the gospel (Matthew 13:1-9), ignoring the gospel message, enduring in believing the gospel (Hebrews 3:7-13), and others. It’s daunting to read so many.

We often walk away with the conclusion that we should live our lives constantly looking over our shoulders, wondering if wrath is coming our way. We often read warnings without marrying them with the gospel message that tells us Jesus Himself received all of the wrath we deserve for all time.

Others of us recall the gospel, and then we read warnings as if they don’t apply to us at all. I consider this equally dangerous because most warnings were written to believers, not to lost people. Why bother writing so many warnings to the church if they aren’t supposed to apply to the church?

OK, so I’m not supposed to live in constant fear, and I’m not supposed to ignore warnings either. That sounds like pretty much all of the options. What am I missing here?

Let’s dig in.

The gaping hole of a grace-only gospel

If you’re anything like me, it’s very easy to pretend the gospel message only has positive motivations. It’s easy for us to emphasize how Jesus covers our sins, receives our punishments, and holds us secure in salvation for all time. It’s easy to emphasize the undeserved belonging, acceptance, and intimacy He brings us. It’s very difficult, however, to emphasize the dangers of ignoring that very grace.

Hebrews might be my favorite book in the Bible, even with its mysterious authorship. In my opinion, no other book in the Bible so clearly juxtaposes beautiful grace with harsh warnings about ignoring that grace. It has the most comforting passages right beside some of the scariest. The letter’s message isn’t only about a God we can trust when the promises seem far away and our sin seems near. It’s about the extreme dangers of ignoring that message and pretending we can just listen to it later.

The thing about only having positive motivations in the gospel is that they provide us with no sense of urgency. We hear a message that only says, “God is better than sin.” Then we respond with, “Cool, I’ll check out sin for a while, and then I’ll check out God later.” There is nothing warning us of the dangers of waiting to trust God or the damage that we’re doing to ourselves and others while we wait to trust God.

“Why eat a Happy Meal when you have a royal feast waiting for you?” is not a complete gospel.

Humans don’t like to change. We’re stubborn. If the feast is unfamiliar, we’ll stick with the happy meal, thank you very much. In my opinion, this message alone is not good news. It’s damaging news because it doesn’t spur us toward change. The gospel needs warnings to be truly good news.

Cattle prods

It’s best to think of warnings as cattle prods. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll find a fun sentence: “Cattle can be difficult to move and direct for a variety of reasons. Prods can be useful for moving stubborn or aggressive animals.” Yes, we are like those cattle. And yes, we are both stubborn and aggressive when it comes to change, especially unfamiliar change.

Warnings are cattle prods. They are scary, and they’re meant to be scary. They are severe momentary motivations to spur us away from sin and toward Jesus.

I like this analogy because it also helps us understand what warnings are not. Warnings are not long term motivators. If you use a cattle prod constantly, you’ll probably give the poor animal a heart attack. This is akin to living in constant fear of the warnings we read in the Bible.

Further, warnings are not meant to keep you in the gospel. They are a short-term motivator to get you going in the right direction. To stretch this analogy perhaps past its reasonable bounds, it’s the rich grass that will keep you where you are supposed to be, not the cattle prod.

Warnings cannot change you any more than rules can change you.

The beauty of the gospel captivates and keeps you. The beauty of God Himself changes you, not the warnings. The warnings just get you going.

When warnings become harmful

When you read a warning in the Bible, you are supposed to be afraid. Fear is good. That fear is useless, however, it if drives you into anxiety or despair (see 2 Cor. 7:10). It is supposed to drive you into Jesus’s arms, knowing that He covers you, protects you, and walks intimately with you. Biblical warnings are a “fear that draws you near” and not a fear that drives you away.

There is no place for warnings while you’re in God’s presence. Warnings are for when we are outside His presence. Read the warning you find in scripture. Shake in fear. Let it do its work. Let it drive you to Jesus. But once you’re in His arms, ignore the warning completely, and focus on God Himself instead.

The prod that spurred you into God’s presence will now harm you if it distracts you from God’s beauty.

Let the warning do its work, and then discard it entirely.

You aren’t meant to live your life in fear. You are meant to live your life captivated by God’s beauty. Fear has a necessary purpose, but it’s a momentary purpose. Live your life in adoration and joy, and let fear spur you back toward it when you’ve strayed.

Posted by Matt Norman with
in MIsc

God Knows More Than You Do

God Knows More Than You Do

As we continue our journey through the difficult parts of scripture we’d all just rather ignore, I want to lead you through something you will rely on over and over and over again: God knows more than you do.

When you read that, I know you’re probably thinking that it’s obvious. I agree, it’s obvious. If there does exist a God who is omniscient, omni-present, and eternal, having created all things that exist, then it stands to reason He knows more than we do.

The concept is straightforward. But it feels impossible to trust in God’s wisdom when it goes against our deepest desires and we don’t understand why He commands something. In those times, the last thing we want to believe is that God knows more than we do. Let’s dig in.

Lot’s unconventional answer

If you’re familiar with the story of Lot, you know it involves a level of heartache we can’t begin to fathom. The man lost everything. He lost his family. He lost his belongings. He lost his health. He lost his reputation.

After losing everything, his so-called friends tell him it’s because he’s done something wrong, though they don’t make a very convincing argument. After losing everything, he can’t even call pity something to be grasped. What he gets instead is suspicion from his friends.

You know Lot was angry. You know he was disillusioned. You know He was looking for answers. If we’re completely honest, we have to admit that from our viewpoint, he was owed some answers. What happens when Lot demands those answers? God kicks off his response with:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.

Job 38:2-4

Are you kidding me? God, you put Job through that much pain, and this is your answer? It turns out this answer is grace. God knows more than we do.

The thing is, we don’t always know why God does what He does. Our suffering does not only come because of sins we’ve committed. Otherwise, Jesus would not have suffered. Suffering and difficulty come for many reasons. Some of them we understand, and we’ll get to that in future posts.

For now, let’s pretend there are no helpful answers, though, because so often, it feels like there aren’t. I want to focus on the cases where all we have to go on is a trust that God knows more than we do … and that He’s good.

Abraham’s incomplete promise

God promised a great many things to Abraham if you read through Genesis. One thing you’ll notice, though, is that to a large extent Abraham never actually lived to see those promises fulfilled.

Even when [Abraham] reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. […] All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it.

Hebrews 11:9,13

God promises Abraham a land he can settle in and call “home.” Abraham leaves everything that was comfortable to travel there. And when he arrives? He’s forced to live like a homeless person, a foreigner who doesn’t belong. And when he died, there was no great nation. He and Sarah gave birth to a son he never thought would be born, true. But he was still essentially a foreigner, and there was no great nation.

Talk about disillusionment. God, you told me to go here, but all I see around me is confusion and chaos. I thought there’d be a paved pathway, but all I found was mud. You promised me something, but all I see are qualified successes, wins with an asterisk.

The purpose of Hebrews 11 is to highlight a lot of people who trusted God more than they trusted themselves. Though they never lived to see God’s promises completely fulfilled, they trusted Him. Though they got to their destinations and found mostly confusion, chaos, and disillusionment, they trusted Him. The root of this trust? They believed God knew more than they did … and that He is good.

When you cannot understand why

This is probably the hardest aspect of faith – when we cannot understand why. Trust is easy when we understand, but arguably, that isn’t even trust. We’re leaning on our own understanding at that point. When we don’t understand at all, however … trust isn’t so easy. When our deepest desires are in direct conflict with God’s direction, trust isn’t easy. When everything seems to call God a liar (and I promise you it will at times), trust isn’t easy.

The thing is, God knows more than you do. He’s weaving a tapestry, and our lives are the threads. We see only our threads and a few nearby, and to us it’s complete chaos. We can’t find the order in the things we see around us. But God knows more than we do. He knows how the suffering is used for good. He knows how the chaos fits together for something good.

I remember holding my son down for a breathing treatment in a hospital one time. Imagine it from his perspective though. I’m having trouble breathing. I’m terrified. I’m in an unfamiliar place. Someone I don’t know is strapping something to my face. And my dad? Someone I trust implicitly? He’s holding me down! From his perspective, it was only chaos and suffering. From my perspective, it was life-giving help.

We will be restless until we slow down and settle into the simple truth that God knows more than we do, and He’s good.

What does this look like for you? What has happened in your life that you cannot make sense of? What desires of yours come in direct conflict with God’s word, but you can’t for the life of you understand why? What is that area in your life where it seems everything is calling Him a liar?

We scream the question: Why, God?! Why?! And in that moment, the idea of trusting is so utterly foreign that we would never find it if it weren’t for a Holy Spirit who intervenes and reveals. Without God’s Spirit pulling our hearts to desire Him above all things, we would never find rest from our endless questions.

A reason to trust

Your situation is hard. I know this because mine is too. It’s hard. But it’s important to slow down and realize that hard … is OK. Those of us around you? We understand. Not entirely, no. But we understand. You aren’t alone.

And God? He understands more than any of us. He’s no stranger to suffering. Recall how we treat Him on a daily minute-by-minute basis. We ignore, we evade, we rebel, we distrust, and we accuse. Recall His patience while all of this is constantly happening. Recall that Jesus made Himself human and weak to prove to you He understands. Recall that moment Jesus felt His Father’s hatred directed right at Him for the sins you and I have done, when all He had known for eternity before that was the deepest intimacy imaginable. Recall that He did this from a glad heart that is full of love for you.

He is a faithful and understanding God. He is a near God. He is a powerful God. He is a good God. He is a wise God. If He can turn Jesus’s death into the most beautiful gift ever known, He can turn your suffering into good as well. How will He do it? We often never know. But we can trust that He will.

As you read through scripture, you’ll ask at times how God can be powerful, just, and good at the same time. The gospel is all the fuel you need for this. You will encounter many times when you do not understand the why or the how. That’s OK. When we do not understand, we trust. Not blindly. We trust because this is the same God who sacrificed everything for us while we were at our worst.

Posted by Matt Norman with

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