I Shall Rise: Finding Hope in God’s Judgment

by   |     |   shorn@bju.edu   |  

What do we do when we find ourselves in the dark and barren place of God’s judgment for our sins? What do we do when we are face to face with our sin’s consequences—damaged or ruined relationships, incarceration, loss of a job or ministry—and there is no hope of escape? This is what the kingdom of Judah was facing during the ministry of Micah. The people had been repeatedly warned of their sin and the impending judgment, but they persisted in going their own way. Judgment was coming. The land would be conquered, and the people would be taken to Babylon.

But Micah did not just warn of inevitable judgment; he also preached of hope and restoration for those who were willing to respond to God. This is what the last chapter of Micah’s prophecy is all about. It is intended to help people who have fallen under God’s just and righteous judgment come to grips with what God is doing in their life—a message that we need today just as much as they did.

An Important Clarification

First off, I want to be clear that we are talking here about God’s judgment for the sin of his children, not his final judgment on unbelievers. The Bible makes it clear that the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Those who enter eternity without having received God’s free gift of salvation will eventually stand before the great white throne of judgment and be cast into the lake of fire for eternity (Rev. 20:11–15). This is God’s final, just and terrible judgment of sin. But this is not the kind of judgment we are talking about in relation to God and His children. Those who have placed their trust in Christ will not face God’s wrath on their sin (Rom. 5:1) because Christ took it for them (Col. 2:14)! But God, in another sense, still judges the sin of His children, as we see in Hebrews 12:5–6:

“…My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

The important distinction here is that, while unbelievers experience retribution for their sin, believers experience discipline. While God will never condemn believers for their sin, He will discipline them.

How Did We Get Here?

If we are being honest about this question, we generally end up in this difficult place because we insisted on going our own way in spite of all the warnings God gave us. We see this reflected in the book of Micah. The people knew what God expected of them (Mic. 6:8), but they chose to continue in their past sins (Mic. 6:16). When God sent prophets to warn them of His coming wrath, the people mocked and rejected them.

Is it possible for believers to do the same thing? Is it possible that we’ve heard the preaching, seen the truth in God’s Word, been convicted by the Holy Spirit, been warned by others, and yet choose to continue in our sinful ways? I think the reality that God disciplines His children makes this a possibility. God graciously—lovingly—chooses to intervene when we continue in sin.

Wrong Responses to God’s Discipline

1. Blaming God

Sometimes when we are faced with our sin, we want to blame God. Whether it’s blaming Him for our circumstances, the way He made us, what He’s given us (or taken away), or where He’s led us, we try to put the responsibility for our sin on God. Thoughts of accusation cloud our minds: “God, if you would only give me…” or “Things wouldn’t be so hard if God would just…” But James 1:13–14 makes it clear that God never causes us to sin; instead, our sin comes from within us, born of our own lust and greed.

2. Becoming Angry at God

Blaming God is quickly accompanied by anger; it really is often an outgrowth of blaming God for our problems. The frustration of thinking God has not acted justly or lovingly leads to anger. As Proverbs 19:3 says, our hearts rage against the Lord when our own foolishness leads us astray.

3. Losing Hope

This spiraling away from God leads to despair. We lose hope and give up on what God is doing in our lives. The lie takes root that we are beyond hope and that God’s favor will forever be something in the past. Even though this reaction might not seem as blatantly sinful as the other two, it is still a selfish response to God’s judgment. Living in despair is simply a result of focusing on ourselves—our pitiable condition, our struggle with sin, our apparent inability to please God. Such a response has no thought for Christ’s redeeming work on the cross or for His promise that He will complete the good work He began (Phil. 1:6).

Blame-shifting, anger and despair are not ways God wants us to respond to His chastening hand in our lives. He has something better in mind—a response filled with recognition of our sin, His immense love and a glorious way forward.

Correct Responses to God’s Discipline

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. — Micah 7:8–9

For a people who sit under the loving discipline of a holy God, these words shine forth with joy-inspiring, sin-defying, God-centered hope. These verses show us two ways that God’s people should respond to our sin in the midst of judgment.

1. Admit Your Guilt

Notice the first phrase in verse 9—“I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.” Where is the blame-shifting in those words? Where is the anger in that response? There is none, because repentant sinners understand that their sin is theirs and theirs alone. Up to this point the people of Judah have been implicitly arguing with God; they have thus far refused to admit their sin or their guilt even when God declares it to them in undeniable terms.

Sometimes darkness has a way of opening our eyes to see the wickedness of our sin and the righteousness of God’s judgment. In Psalm 51 (written after David was confronted about his sin with Bathsheba) David said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). The first step in repentance and renewal is owning my guilt and admitting that God is absolutely just in judging me.

2. Look to the God of Hope

Notice the focus of these verses: “When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me… he will bring me out to the light, I shall look upon his vindication(emphasis added). Hope during judgment can only be found by looking to God. We got ourselves into this mess, and we certainly won’t be able to get ourselves out. God, the very one who judges us, is eager to restore us. And all of it, from the discipline to the reconciliation, is done out of love.

What a truth—God, even in moments of darkness and discipline, is acting on our behalf! Part of verse nine says, “Until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.” Those two little words at the end of the phrase are paramount—God will execute judgment for me, not against me. Just as God has judged, he will also vindicate.

Do we have a wrong view of God when He responds to our sin? Do we think of Him as an ominous, overbearing, wrathful judge who is tired of our failures and is ready to discard us? Would we not do better to see Him as a loving Father who always works on behalf of His children and delights in their repentance, always ready to forgive? Even when we are apathetic or obstinate towards our sanctification, He remains committed to the work He began before the foundations of the world (Rom. 8:28–30). Whether through discipline or blessing—He’s lovingly working on our behalf.

Don’t Give Up

The reality of living as Christians in this broken world is that we will struggle with sin. As we live between the “already” of our salvation and the “not yet” of our perfection, don’t lose sight of what God is doing. Don’t give up. As Proverbs 24:16 says, “The righteous falls seven times and rises again.” The Gospel alone gives us the hope of forgiveness, restoration and growth. And that is the confidence we have in God: “When I fall, I shall rise.”

This post was first published on seminary.bju.edu.

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Sam Horn (BA, ’86; MA, ’88; PhD, ’95 from BJU) joined the executive team at Bob Jones University in January of 2015.

Sam has served in both academic and pastoral roles throughout his ministry. Sam desires to use his experience in pastoral ministry, teaching, and academic administration to recruit and train students for all disciplines and to embrace the mission of advancing the Gospel and serving the Church effectively.