Rethinking a Popular Verse in the Light of Grace
Updated: Jun 17
As the corona virus has made its way through the world and devastated many lives and businesses due to the illness itself or the shutdown of the economy, we, as Christians have been grappling with finding and maintaining a proper godly perspective on the whole mess. People and pastors have taken to social media to encourage people and try to give their Christian brothers and sisters advice on how to deal with the pandemic. Many people have offered the following verse as their answer.
"When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." ~ 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 (NKJV)
I know that people who have used this passage have meant well, but, in the interest of rightly dividing the word of God, we should ask, “Is this a good scripture to use in this instance?”
Let’s look at it more closely in the light of the grace of the New Covenant.
Context is King
First, let’s look at the context of this passage. As you know, context is very important to interpretation and application of scripture in our lives. This scripture is found in 2 Chronicles, which is a historical record of the lives and events of Solomon and the kings of Judah. It is during the period of the Old Mosaic Covenant. The Old Covenant was an “if” – “then” covenant. God’s blessings or curses were based on the nation of Israel’s obedience or disobedience to the law.
Note that, like the Old Covenant, this passage is an “if” – “then” statement. IF the nation of Israel would humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways THEN God would hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. This is a conditional statement. The reverse would be true too. God wouldn’t hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land if they didn’t do what He asked of them. And we know from history, they couldn’t manage to fulfill the IF part of the passage and they ended up being carried off to Babylon and the temple was destroyed.
This is a good lesson for us to learn because it teaches us that we are just like the Jewish nation; incapable of obeying the Mosaic law perfectly. This lesson is taught throughout the Old Testament so that we could know and see that humanity needed a new deal, a new covenant; one that we wouldn’t fail at over and over again. God already had a plan for humanity’s weakness. He promised a New Covenant. You can read about it in Jeremiah chapter 31 verses 31-34. After several thousand years, God sent Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant. He did away with the old and brought in the new when Jesus came, fulfilled the Old Covenant, died on the cross, rose again three days later, and sent His Holy Spirit to His followers. This is the Gospel of Grace.
Can We Fulfill the IF Part?
Even if we wanted to, can we accomplish what this passage from 2 Chronicles is asking us to do? Let’s dig a little deeper. Here are some of my thoughts about this passage we are discussing.
1. God starts by saying if His people would humble themselves, pray and seek His face… These are all wonderful things to do that build our relationship with our Lord. There is nothing anti-gospel about this part of the passage.
2. if my people would… turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. This part, in my opinion, doesn’t sit well with my knowledge of the New Covenant and the Gospel of Grace. Think about the following questions.
To what degree, and what percentage of God’s people need to turn from wickedness in their own strength to satisfy God so that He can heal the land of corona virus? 100% of the people 100% of the time? 75% of the people 75% of the time? 51% of the people 75% of the time? Which laws are we able to ignore? Which laws do we have to obey? This passage doesn’t say, but it begs the questions.
Do you think that it is possible that every believer in the world, or even just in America, could, if they tried really hard, turn from their wicked ways and never sin again? I know I’d fail at it, hour one.
How about you? Do you think you could refrain from ever having an evil thought, being jealous of someone, or putting yourself before others or God? None of us can say we are without sin.
Doesn’t this seem like an impossible request? I think so. The nation of Israel couldn’t do it, why do we think we can? And remember, these were specific requirements by God to a specific people group who were under the Old Covenant. Frankly, it doesn't pertain to New Covenant believers who have already repented about their sins and received forgiveness for them.
As believers in the New Covenant, we can turn toward God, receive Jesus by faith, be made righteous and holy, receive the Holy Spirit and be freed from the bondage of sin, but until we walk into eternity without our fleshly nature, or “old man,” there is always the possibility, more like probability, that we will sin again. Yes, we are born again and are made alive in Christ, but our old flesh still exists. Praise be to the Holy Spirit that He guides us and helps us to turn away from sin, but that doesn’t mean we can and do avoid it for the rest of our lives.
Straying from Grace
Because I believe this is an impossible request, I worry about how it makes believers feel. If I didn’t know any better, I’d feel hopeless because I don’t think I can rely on myself and all my Christian brothers and sisters to completely turn away from evil, even if we really wanted to save people from this virus. And if we can’t turn away completely form our wicked ways, then we are sunk, right?
Using this passage also places believers back into an “if” – “then” position with God. Jesus went painstakingly to the cross to eliminate us having to DO anything to receive God’s blessing, ear, and forgiveness. I don’t believe this passage can fit into the New Covenant, in which, God tells us that He’ll do it all. There is no need for us to “do” anything. No “ifs,” just “it is finished.”
I feel that when believers use the passage from 2 Chronicles, we are not only misguiding people away from the true Gospel of Grace and guiding them into legalism, but we also run the risk of making people feel ashamed and outside of God’s grace. If I take this passage seriously and assume that IF I turn from my sin THEN God will heal the nation of the corona virus, and I struggle with something like addiction, then I might feel like there is just no hope for America. I might feel like because of my sin, God allowed this horrible virus to exist and people are dying because of me. That alienates people from the good news of the Gospel and is a heavy load that I don’t believe God has put on any one of us. God uses the trials and disasters we face while here on planet earth to shape us and bring us closer to Him, but I don’t believe His will is controlled by our ability to stop sinning. If that were the case, Jesus died in vain.
Staying in Grace
Hasn’t He already heard our cry for redemption, forgiven us our sins, and healed us from the curse of sin and dead works? Yes, that is what the New Covenant is all about. And we didn’t have to obey the Law perfectly to get that blessing. Christ died while we were still in our sin.
Hasn’t God already blessed us greatly? Yes! Ephesians 1:3 says He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (NKJV) Our being blessed by God is not dependent on our nation turning from wickedness, praise Jesus!
Does God, in the New Covenant, ever promise that He would heal the land from viruses, natural disasters, or any type of tribulation? No, but He will, in the end, heal the land by fire, once we are out of here. Read Revelation 21:1. But, more importantly, when we accept Jesus’ righteousness as our own and become a child of God, He heals the landscape of our hearts and makes us a new creation. He makes our spirit come alive and frees us from the bondage of the “ifs” and “thens” of the law.
Remember, this cursed earth is not our home. Our home is the kingdom of God, and if we dwell in that kingdom, no matter what happens here on earth, we have the victory, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Grace is not an “if” – “then” proposition. It can’t be by definition. Grace is freely given, unmerited favor and love from God. Unmerited. There is nothing we can do to earn that favor and love; it is freely given to us by God because of what Jesus did.
Our Godly Response
How can we respond or encourage others through this pandemic or any other trial in the light of grace?
The Bible tells us that this creation is under the bondage of corruption. There will be viruses, diseases, natural disasters, human caused disasters, and all sorts of struggles and trials. But, it also teaches us that Jesus has overcome this world and that the sufferings of today are not worthy to be compared to the glory that can and will be revealed in us. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. It just means that we must rely on God to get us through, to give us strength when we feel weak, and to love on us when we need some extra comfort. We don't need to lose heart.
We can pray for individuals that they be healed. We can feed and pay bills for families who are out of work. We can support the medical community and pray for them. We can trust in God for everything. We can also share the good news of the Gospel of Grace to those who do not know the Lord, Jesus, and who fear death and do not have the peace of knowing God. We can do all the things that the New Covenant Gospel of Grace ask us to do which is to love God, and love others.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7 NKJV)
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