For the next month we will be looking at God’s grace. Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary puts as its first definition of grace, “unmerited divine assistance given man for his regeneration or sanctification.” So, grace is favor, “unmerited favor.” In other words, we get what we don’t deserve, and we don’t get what we deserve.
Joel 2:13 says, “Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster.” (CSB) To give a little background Joel is talking about the Day of the Lord. Israel has been wayward, sinful, and rebellious. They are to be disciplined by God for their sin and rebellion by being captured by the Babylonians and be in captivity for 70 years. Joel is telling them all the horrible things that will happen during that time. However, this book isn’t just about the captivity of Israel to the Babylonians, it is also referring to the awful judgement during the Tribulation period found in Revelation. Israel was rebellious in Joel’s day and they will continue to be rebellious in the last days.
In the midst of the judgements Joel describes, he tells of how God will deliver them. He pleads for them to repent and turn back to God. In our verse today, Joel is telling the people what God has told him, and God is pleading for them to return, not just in outward appearance, but in their hearts. Today, God is pleading for us to turn from our rebellion and turn back to Him. Joel says that God is “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in faithful love.” The judgements described are God’s way of disciplining, not hatefully or cruelly, but gently drawing them back to Him.
God’s grace is extended to us when we ask for His forgiveness and turn our hearts back to Him. His love for us is greater than we can imagine, and He desires for us to be faithful. When we rebel against God, it separates our communication with Him, and He wants more than anything to be in constant contact with us, to have a good relationship with us. God is a loving Father who desires obedience from His children, He desires faithfulness, He desires to show His love to us and give us the desires of our hearts. (Psalm 37:4)
I love the description Joel gives of God’s character. He is gracious and compassionate. He shows grace to us all the time because of the compassion He has for us. He understands that we can’t be perfect, and so His grace is extended to us. He is “slow to anger”. Boy, I sure can’t say that about myself. That’s a life-long battle for me. So, when I mess up, my only recourse is to repent, ask forgiveness, and endeavor to do better, and God graciously forgives. Joel talks about tearing their hearts, not just their clothes. What God is desiring from us is not just an outward appearance of repentance, but a true repentance from the heart. God is “abounding in faithful love”. His love for us is more than we can even imagine. It hurts His heart when we rebel against Him and the desires He has for us. He “relents from sending disaster”. His grace is extended to us because of His love for us. He holds back from disowning us, if you will, because He wants a relationship with us, one of love and faithfulness.
However, there is such a thing as discipline. He must discipline us when we get out of line, otherwise, He wouldn’t be a loving Father. We’ve all seen children that run amok because their parents won’t discipline them. Those parents usually say something like, “I love them too much to tell them ‘no’”. In actuality, their actions just show the opposite. If they truly loved them that much, they would discipline their children so that they would be protected from harm and be good citizens as adults. Even though we don’t like to be disciplined, it is necessary. Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (NASB) The result of discipline is to produce godly living. God extends His grace in the way He disciplines us. He lovingly chastises us. He doesn’t come down on us with a heavy fist but guides us with discipline and pleads with us to turn back to Him.
Today, we can be grateful for the grace He shows us. How awesome to know that He loves us so much that He desires for us to stay close to Him, and live a life that is holy, righteous, and redeemed.