Q: I know God is loving and longsuffering, but does He have a line in which He will say enough is enough and will respond in judgment?
A: According to Scriptural examples God does have a line, but people will have no idea where that line is located and when they have actually stepped across it. The Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:9 tells us God is longsuffering so people will come to repentance and Jesus summarized the whole matter by declaring, “Repent or perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).
The first indication that there is a line involves the matter of true repentance. Let’s consider Cain (Genesis 4). He refused to heed God’s warning about his anger and still killed his brother Abel. When confronted, he refused to take accountability for his actions and when he would not humble himself, he went into a mode of self-pity, fearing that he would have the same action befall him. It is clear that Cain stepped over some line of no return as he left the presence of the Lord, and became a vagabond who did his own thing.
However, there are those who give an impression of repentance, but miss a valuable opportunity to get it right in the first place. For example, Esau was quick to sell his birthright for food, and the Bible tells us that even though he cried bitter tears over losing the blessing to Jacob that he found no place of repentance (Hebrews 12:16-17). Did Esau step over the line? The birthright was associated to the Messiah, with blessings to a worldly inheritance. I believe Esau stepped over the line because he did not value the things of God. God said that He hated Esau but loved Jacob (Malachi 1:2-3). Malachi’s reference to these two men included their descendants. This brings us to a very important point, God deals with people differently; therefore, the “rope” of long-suffering He allots them, along with His line may vary. For example Jacob had his problems that are often pointed out in sermons and Bible Studies, while Esau’s action does not always receive much attention or consideration. Yet the Lord’s attitudes toward them were poles apart.
Another example of a person who stepped over the line was Judas Iscariot. Jesus said of him even though he would be fulfilling Scriptural prophecy, woe to the man who would end up betraying Him (Luke 22:22). We are told that Judas repented in Matthew 27:3 to the priests about betraying an innocent man, but they were not the ones offended by his betrayal. Judas’ offense was against the Son of God, against the God of heaven; therefore, his misdirected repentance did not change the final results. We are told that after he encountered the indifference of the priests, Judas went out and hung himself.
Then there were the sons of Aaron who offered strange fire and died for it (Leviticus 10:1). We also have Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 who lied about their giving and also died for it. To me these individuals stepped over some line. Clearly the sons of Aaron did not think it such an offense to offer God the wrong type of fire nor did the couple in Acts think that the difference between what they promised to the Lord and what they ended up giving to Him would be noticeable. It is clear that they had a casual attitude towards God.
Another man who stepped over the line was King Manasseh (2 Kings 21; 2 Chronicles 33). He reigned 55 years, but it was said of him that he did evil in the sight of the Lord which included idolatry, witchcraft, and sacrificing his children, causing the people of Judah to gravely err. For the sake of His covenant to David, God humbled this king, but not before this wicked king brought an irreversible judgment down on the people of Judah (2 Kings 21:12-16). Even though the punishment was put off because of the 23-year reign of righteous King Josiah, it did come on the kingdom of Judah in the form of Babylonian oppression and destruction. The very nation that humbled King Manasseh by putting him in prison in the first place, until he humbled himself and was delivered by God, was the very nation who would humble and take into captivity the people of Judah, as well as destroy the temple and Jerusalem.
What can we learn from these people’s example? It is clear people need to truly repent but it takes a person to humble him or herself before the Lord. The only thing that keeps people from truly repenting is a prideful, hard heart. That is why we have this exhortation in Hebrews 3:8, “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.”
The second thing we must avoid is missed opportunities to do what is necessary and right when it comes to our spiritual lives. However, we must put value on the things of God for us to consider the matters of God in the right way. It is for this reason that this warning is given in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
As we consider these examples, we can see true repentance is a matter of a heart attitude, valuing the things of God, and having a fear of the Lord. However there is a much-needed fourth part to ensure genuine repentance and that is the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 6:3, the Lord warned that the Spirit of God would not always strive with people. John 16:7-13 tells us that the Holy Spirit reproves people of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
If a person is not open to be convicted of sin, ready to humble oneself before God seeking forgiveness, and restoration, the Holy Spirit will not be able to reprove him or her. There is a saying that it is easy to get a lost person saved, but it is not easy to get an “okay”, “decent” person lost. Until people see their true spiritual plight so they can recognize that the wrath of God is presently upon on all unbelief and disobedience, they will see no need to repent and flee His wrath to come.
God will never step over our will to save us, but we can step over the line where the Spirit of God will no longer strive with us. It is a fearful thing to put God to a foolish test to see how far His longsuffering will be extended before He lets a person be taken by the currents of His judgment to taste His wrath. As the Bible tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).