God isn't Done with Us

One of the fascinating aspects of the Jonah story is the fact that even after Jonah's face-to-fish encounter, he still does not seem to get it.  Jonah is regurgitated on the seashore and instructed by God to fulfill his original calling - go preach to the Assyrians.  So after receiving a monumental second chance (and quite the fish tale in the process) and after what appears to be a heartfelt time of repentance, Jonah heads to Ninevah and proclaims God's message. But from all indications, he does so not because he has a heartfelt desire for the Assyrians to turn to God. He does so because life in the intestines of a giant fish is the opposite of pleasant.

Even after God's incredible work of salvific grace in Jonah's life, he is still a disgruntled prophet who obeys more out of fear of what could happen than out of an intense love for God or a passion to see people far from God turn to God.  In essence, Jonah is still a work in progress. As a matter of fact when the book of Jonah ends, there is no indicator of any sort that the prophet's attitude changed in any way.  If anything, he is still pouting and ticked at God.

The story of Jonah teaches us so much about our tendency to be mad at God for being God (see my earlier post here) & the reality that repentance and sanctification are often an ongoing process.  I believe that we tend to trust God's grace and work for salvation but have difficulty trusting God's grace and work for sanctification.  In other words, we are all about salvation-by-grace-through-faith-plus nothing-minus nothing (full blown Reformation sola fida theology) when it comes to a person being made right with God in terms of their justification.  But when it comes to sanctification, we tend to trust more in our human-created lists and rules.  After all, the external is easier to judge and simpler.

And yet the Bible is filled with people who are constantly stumbling their way through life and yet God used them in a tremendous way to accomplish His purposes.  When you read the actual and raw stories of the flannelgraph heroes of Sunday School, it reads like a Most Wanted list.  God uses imperfect people.  Church history is also filled with them.

Jonah was "under construction" when God used him to deliver a message that brought an entire city to its spiritual knees.  And how did Jonah celebrate this spiritual awakening?  He sat on the hillside outside of the city, broke out the popcorn, and waited to watch Sodom and Gomorrah: the sequel. Does that sound like a man whom God had just used to influence thousands of people?

Justification is instant. However, Sanctification is a process. Spiritual growth is a process. Repentance can be a process.  At salvation, we are instantly and eternally justified before God. But also at salvation, we begin a process of BEING transformed into Christ-likeness.

As I learn to live in grace-motivated obedience, I am made more like Jesus and less like me. And yet there are moments and even seasons where our humanity surfaces in ways that can cause people to question our faith itself.  It is during those seasons that we can find ourselves so far from God that we can even limit our usefulness in His kingdom.  Jonah landed in the belly of a fish because he was running from God. He was ineffective for a time because God was refining His prophet - He was transforming him.  Yet God was not finished with Jonah.  He did not leave him in his temporary refinery. He did not leave him lying on the beach in whale vomit.  Jonah's repentance was not complete (as evidenced at the story unfolds) but God still had a purpose for Jonah - a purpose that was bigger than the human instrument himself.

And that is a brutal reality that each of us must face at times: God's purposes are bigger than us. His calling is never about us. His story is never about us. It is always about Him. The hero of the Jonah story is not Jonah, or the whale, or the Assyrians who turned from their wicked ways. The hero of the Jonah story is God - a God who provides second chances - second chances for depraved people in need of a Savior, second chances for God followers who are being transformed into His image, and second chances for people just like you and just like me. 

As I learn more about God's grace and the depth of His unconditional forgiveness, I have a deeper desire to follow this God who pursues us with this type of love.  Grace is not an excuse to live in sin. Grace is an escape from sin - from both its eternal consequences and its daily stranglehold.  And yet when we do allow sin's power to imprison us - when we do find ourselves lying in the puke of our own sinful decision making, God's relentless grace is there to pick us up, clean us up, and prepare us for use in His bigger picture. And that's just the kind of God we serve. 

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