There are moments in the book of Jeremiah where, if you are reading carefully, you might experience a little bit of literary whiplash. These moments, highlighted by God describing judgment and then suddenly speaking of grace and forgiveness, are telling when it comes to the character and activity of God. We read this kind of passage in Jeremiah 33 between verses 5 and 6.
“They are coming in to fight against the Chaldeans and to fill them with the dead bodies of men whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath, for I have hidden my face from this city because of all their evil. Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.”
One moment God describes the judgment he is allowing to fall on Judah, then he suddenly switches to health and healing. If Judah has been so full of rebellion for generations, and the judgment that falls on them is God’s righteous work, how is it God suddenly brings grace and forgiveness?
First of all, we should note that we probably do not understand the fullness of God’s forgiveness until we grasp the depth of sin. The sinfulness of sin illuminates forgiveness. The fact that God forgives his people is not remarkable until we know how deep their rebellion against him really went.
The core of the answer to our question is contained in verse 8. Here God describes his forgiveness of sin using each primary concept for “sin” found in the Old Testament thus addressing sin in every way we can imagine it. The NIV translation catches the nuances well:
“I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.”
God will cleanse them of “all the sin” they have committed. This act of God refers to the state of our hearts-the sin nature. There are sins we actually commit, and then there is the nature that inclines us to rebel against God. One Puritan theologian described the difference as, “the root and the fruit of sin.” This first promise is to cleanse us from the root of sin.
Then God will forgive all the “sins of rebellion” we commit against him. These are the actual deeds of sin we commit, and these are what we typically feel need to be forgiven. It is easier for us to feel the prick of our rebellious behavior than it is to experience conviction over our sin natures. But God promises to forgive both, and it is this kind of forgiveness that changes my life.
Is learning to live a Christ-like life just a matter of behavior modification? Can we truly say someone is living Christ’s life if they are just a “do-gooder”? The transformation of a disciple of Christ is far more than just the modification of behavior.
Instead, a Christ-like life is one in which the change goes deeper than the surface behaviors of my life. The kind of transformation and forgiveness promised in Jeremiah 33:8 changes my character and inclinations and gives rise to the fruit of the Spirit as naturally as a healthy apple tree produces apples.
Learn to live in this lifestyle of forgiveness-the kind graciously given by God and the kind that is constantly at work in the deepest recesses of my soul to change me and make me new. So be it.