All the Characteristics of a Gracious God

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #7

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

Psalm 103:8-10 (ESV)

I’m reflecting on whether “All the Benefits of Believing” is the right title for this series of posts. When we read verses like the ones above, perhaps a better title would be “All the Characteristics of a Gracious God.” Not sure if it’s catchy though…

The reality is that we believers experience these wonderful benefits of a relationship with God because He is so loving and kind. Any benefit we experience is because God is so good to us.

Merciful and gracious

This psalm tells us that God is both merciful and gracious to us. But what are mercy and grace?

There are a number of definitions of course, but to me these are two different sides of the same coin.

Mercy means we don’t get what we do deserve, whereas grace means we do get what we don’t deserve!

Put simply, God’s mercy means we don’t receive the punishment for our sin. That punishment fell on Christ. And a heavy punishment it was too!

Likewise, God’s grace means we receive all the benefits of a relationship with God, which we did not and could not earn ourselves.

We get all the good we don’t deserve, and none of the bad we do deserve. What an awesome God!

Verse ten expresses this idea of grace and mercy perfectly. God does not deal with us according to our sins. If He did, we would all be in trouble! Instead, He extends mercy and grace to us so that we might receive the benefits of believing which we have not earned.

Slow to Anger

The psalm goes on to highlight that God is slow to anger. This means that He is not irritable, grumpy or snappy as we so often are. Instead, He is patient and gentle. While the way we act at times could warrant a little righteous anger, God does not inflict that anger upon us.

David wrote this psalm under the Old Covenant, which was a time before Christ came to the Earth. God’s people lived under the Law and its curses. It meant that their relationship with God was essentially conditional on them obeying the requirements of the Law of Moses.

However, we see time and time again in the Old Testament examples of God’s people going astray and yet God withholding His anger towards them. Of course a time came when enough was enough, and the people of Israel were led off into captivity but God held off that punishment for so long. And even as they went, the prophets of old spoke of a time when they would return to the land.

Unlike them, we don’t have to fear God’s anger. We live under the New (and Better) Covenant, where the righteous anger of God was spent on His Son Jesus Christ. We don’t face that anger ourselves, as Jesus took our place. There will be a time in the future when God’s anger is poured out on the Earth, and the day of judgement will come. But we need not fear it, as we are covered by the Blood of the Lamb.

Verse nine, quoted above, talks of a time when God will no longer chide, and that His anger will not last forever. This is an extension of the point above, that He is slow to anger, but also that it lasts only a short time. It may burn hot, if you like, but burns out quickly.

Verse nine could also be a reference to the time of Christ. A time when God no longer needs to chide His people, because He will have dealt with their sin and poured out His wrath on Jesus. This is not to say we no longer commit sins, of course we do not have perfect behaviour. Instead of the Law and its threat of punishment, we are now led by God’s Spirit who shows us right from wrong.

Abounding in steadfast love

Why is God so merciful? Why does He pour out His grace on us? Why is He so slow to anger? Because of His steadfast love.

God is love (1 John 4:8). It is not just something He likes to do, it is Who He is. God cannot help but love. He can’t choose to not love, as that would be denying Himself. Love is the very definition of God, and He directs it to us – His people.

God’s love is steadfast – meaning it is unchanging. It is anchored, cemented and locked down. He will not change His mind, or blow hot and cold. God’s love remains.

Due to all of this, His love is demonstrated through mercy, grace, and slowness to anger (amongst other things!).

If you take nothing else from today’s post, understand this – God is love, and He loves you.

Praise the Lord for all of His awesome Characteristics!

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