We live in a tolerant culture, and it seems to be growing more tolerant by the day.
Tolerance is defined as the ability or willingness to put up with those practices or opinions contrary to those held by one’s self. We are told we need to tolerate just about anything and everything, no matter how vile, depraved or unwholesome it is. Who are you to judge, is the cultural standard.
Here is a blunt and controversial thought, but one very biblically sound: God, as described in the Bible, is not a tolerant God. He does not agree to disagree with people, and His standards are absolute.
Consider the evidence presented in the Scriptures … 1) The wrath of God is revealed from the heavens against the unrighteousness and wickedness of men. (cf. Romans 1:18) 2) God commands all men everywhere to repent because there is coming a day in which He will judge the world. (cf. Acts 17:30-31) 3) The wicked and the unrighteous are not allowed into God’s Kingdom (cf. Matthew 5:20; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21). 4) Those who refuse to repent of their sins and change their ways, who continue in those sins, will be condemned eternally. (cf. Revelation 21:8)
This understanding of God is perhaps best summarized by the prophet Habakkuk who said, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.” (Habakkuk 1:13a; NKJV)
This “intolerance” of God toward sin is one of the reasons so many people in our day and age have a problem with the Bible and what it teaches. We have become so hammered by the believe that nobody has a right to criticize or judge another, that we try and apply that same standard to God, refusing to acknowledge that the Creator has the right to have certain expectations of the creation.
Here, however, is another thought: God, as described in the Bible, is a very patient God. This is to be expected as the Bible tells us that God is love, and also that love is patient and longsuffering. (cf. 1 John 4:8; 1 Corinthians 13:4)
Tolerance and patience are not at all the same thing. Tolerance is a willingness to accept what one finds disagreeable. Biblical patience is the willingness to continue working toward a particular goal. In the case of God and man, the goal is change; not the changing of God, who is unchangeable, but the changing of man into what God wants man to be.
The Scriptures teach: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Notice first of all that the promises of God are valid and to be taken seriously. In the context of 2 Peter 3, the apostle is talking about the promise of judgment. If God says He is going to judge the world, we should trust His veracity. It will happen. But it hasn’t happened yet, and the reason is God’s patience. God wants to give men an opportunity to repent and change.
Repentance is a change of heart and mind which leads to a change of action. God cannot tolerate sin. He demands we change. He commands repentance of sinful men. (cf. Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3) But He is patient with us to allow us the time and opportunity needed for us to change. He is rooting for us to make the changes.
More than this, God is not tolerant of sin, but He is very merciful towards sinful men who are willing to repent and turn themselves around. God says, “if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live.” (Ezekiel 18:21-22; NKJV)
In this mercy and goodness, God sent Jesus, to be the propitiation for the sins of men, creating a channel of mercy in which men can be saved. (cf. John 3:16; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 4:10)
We should not deceive ourselves. God is not a modern thinker, willing to tolerate anything and everything men choose to do, giving the same His tacit approval. The unrighteous cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. But God is patient and merciful and God wants to save you. And He has worked to make that salvation possible.
If you would learn more of how to respond to God’s goodness and mercy, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.