I believe that I have failed to adequately cover this topic in only one post. My friend Chad posted a comment on the previous post that exposed this truth. In this quick article, I will do my best to answer his question and complete our exploration of the topic. Here is his question:
“So, because God is unchanging in nature, obviously to “jack with the presence of God” is still a serious mistake today. However, I don’t hear about too many people dropping dead for committing this particular offense. That said, in what way do you think God deals with people who commit this offense, particularly those in leadership?”
Chad brings to light several things in his one question. Yes, God is unchanging in nature. This is evidenced throughout Scripture. Hebrews 13 says that Jesus is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” So that means that God’s character has not changed since Old Testament times. Surely His wrath still burns hot for those who defile His sanctuary and His name. This has New Testament verification. In Hebrews 12, we are given a command to approach worship with reverence:
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:28-29.
This topic and question are weighty matters. We have all heard of the tales of old, where men died for inappropriate worship. We have all been told by parents or well-meaning elders of the church to really be repentant during communion, lest we obtain a tummy ache or worse. My Dad tells a story in which he believed as a child that if he ran in the church building that he would be struck by lightning and that all would remain would be the rubber souls of his shoes. But these are not common occurrences. They are surely far less common than inappropriate and irreverent worship. So why does God not strike us down? I will leave my answer to one much smarter than I. Commentator and theologian Matthew Henry tackles this concept in his Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible. He says:
“We cannot worship God acceptably, unless we worship him with godly reverence and fear. As faith, so holy fear, is necessary to acceptable worship. [3.] It is only the grace of God that enables us to worship God in a right manner: nature cannot come up to it; it can produce neither that precious faith nor that holy fear that is necessary to acceptable worship. [4.] God is the same just and righteous God under the gospel that he appeared to be under the law. Though he be our God in Christ, and now deals with us in a more kind and gracious way, yet he is in himself a consuming fire; that is, a God of strict justice, who will avenge himself on all the despisers of his grace, and upon all apostates. Under the gospel, the justice of God is displayed in a more awful manner, though not in so sensible a manner as under the law; for here we behold divine justice seizing upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and making him a propitiatory sacrifice, his soul and body an offering for sin, which is a display of justice far beyond what was seen and heard on mount Sinai when the law was given.”
I will make a few points here, wrap things up, and breathe a sigh of relief as I log off.
#1 – We no longer have to make sacrifices or undergo purification rituals before we worship. This has translated into a lack of fear of God in most Christians. Jesus took that responsibility off of our shoulders. He said that it is for freedom that He set us free. We do not have freedom to defile His name without punishment, but we have the freedom to worship in whichever way brings us joy as we glorify Him (based on John Piper’s Desiring God).
#2 – Because of the new covenant and Christ’s death on the cross, Jesus has absorbed the wrath of God for our sinful irreverence. This is not fair and certainly less sensible than the early law. But it is far more beautiful, far more gracious, and further brings God glory.
#3 – If we continue to irreverently and sinfully approach Him, He will eventually give us over to our sin. This is our great punishment. Psalm 81:11-13 says, “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” God will convict our arrogant hearts through His Holy Spirit. If we ignore Him and continually walk in our sin with no regard for this conviction, He will give us over to our sin. I’ve been there. It hurts. But He was faithful and just to forgive my sin. Conviction and punishment are painful processes. But they are loving. It is far less loving for God to simply give us over to our own stubborn hearts (this is not to say that we lose our salvation, if saved, but that we rather walk through periods of time in our sin when our sanctification is stunted and we experience no growth or communion with God). I would rather God painfully convict and admonish me than to let me flounder in my sin, stunting my sanctification. It is far more loving.
Chad, I hope that I answered your question, or more accurately that Matthew Henry answered it. I love you all and I hope your day is filled with grace and peace.