Rhinestones or Diamonds?

If offered a diamond or a rhinestone as a gift, who would opt for a rhinestone?

Yes, both reflect light. Both are used in jewelry.

So why do we value one over the other?

In the book, God in His Own Image, I write about God’s grace and mercy. His grace is beyond amazing and His mercy immense. Everyone can fall in love with a God like that. Many of our traditional hymns and contemporary praise songs are focused on God’s mercy or grace.

We love to praise God for His softer attributes such as love, grace and mercy. In the process, however, I wonder if we have lost proper reverence for God? He is also holy and just, and will not excuse willful disobedience when we fail to do what we what He has commanded or choose to do what He has forbidden. Either way, it is called sin.

God commands us to love one another—even our enemies. He clearly directs us to pursue justice for the weak and vulnerable among us. Jesus summarized the commandments as loving God and loving other people. Loving is doing the right or proper thing.

We are also commanded to worship only God and to treat His name with respect. Idolatry is forbidden. We are commanded to speak truth (never lie), respect property (never steal), respect life (never murder) and honor marriage (no adultery).

Not one of us has kept all the commandments. Not one person, except Jesus, has never lied, envied, or spoken evil about another person. The apostle Paul summed it up neatly with the words, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We have missed the mark and have also broken the rules. Each one of us is guilty; we are condemned because there are consequences for our actions. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death.” That sounds pretty severe, doesn’t it?

Those are the rules. I didn’t write them or make them up. God did. He is the judge determining the sentence. He is just and righteous; He will not bend the rules. He is not a doting grandfather saying, “Boys will be boys” and excusing our actions. Even so, I wonder if we have treated God like that doting grandpa by thinking or saying, “God is too good, too loving and too kind to punish.”

A pastor who worries about offending sensitive ears may not come right out and verbally describe God as a kindly, soft-hearted grandfather. But if that same pastor never speaks about God’s holiness and judgment and refuses to teach about hell, doesn’t it amount to the same thing?

The attributes of the living God are not products in a supermarket. We really can’t pick or choose our favorite attributes about God to the neglect of others.

To do so is to create God in our image.

To do so is to worship an idol.

In Romans 11:22 Paul writes, “Note then the kindness and severity of God.” Did you catch that? God is both kind (gentle and loving) and severe. We hear so little about God’s severity today. Hell has essentially been deleted from our vocabulary. Have we created a “safe” god we can manage or “buddy up to”?

Yes, let’s continue to sing about and talk about God’s indescribable love. Let us sing about His incomparable grace. His grace is as amazing as John Newton described it in his wonderful hymn, Amazing Grace. Newton, who once dealt with human trafficking of African slaves, admitted in his own words that he was once “blind,” but by the grace of God gained his sight. He was once lost, but then miraculously found and rescued.

Newton never lost the wonder of God’s grace and mercy; nor should we. Let us sing and boast about God’s grace. But the very words grace and mercy have no meaning if God is not also holy and severe. If God does not judge sin, I don’t need His mercy. Because God is holy and just, I deserve death and hell and desperately need His mercy. Praise God for His mercy that spared me from His wrath and justice. Praise God for His grace that lifted me from the pit and canceled my debt and made me His child forever!

I love and praise God for His severity revealed in His righteous wrath, because it is God’s holiness and justice and righteousness that make His grace so amazing! His severity makes His kindness precious. His holiness and justice are like black velvet upon which His mercy and grace sparkle like diamonds in His light.

When we focus on God grace and mercy while neglecting His holiness and righteousness, we have made those indescribably precious attributes into cheap rhinestones, not the unimaginably costly diamonds they truly are.

Today we are offered nothing less than the unspeakable gift of God’s grace. Grace purchased with the most precious substance in the universe: the blood of Jesus Christ, freely given to save, redeem and restore us.

Never, never settle for a cheap substitute.

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