The gospel is the good news that, through faith in Jesus Christ, all our sins are forgiven, and God now credits Jesus’s righteousness to us. Because of Jesus, we get what we do not deserve: peace with God and eternal life. It is a glorious truth that often fills me with joy.
But on some days, the gospel can feel a little too good to be true. Maybe I lost my temper with my children. Maybe I let someone down. Or perhaps I went through an entire day without seeming to think of God at all. In these moments, it may be easier to dwell on why I don’t deserve peace with God than on the fact that I already have it. My sins, rather than causing me to celebrate God’s grace, can lead to imposter syndrome. Frankly, in moments of sin, I feel that I’m letting God down. That I’m causing Him to rethink the terms of our relationship. That maybe He's starting to wonder if I’m worth the effort.
If anyone could relate to this, it was the people in Israel as described in Nehemiah 9.
The book of Nehemiah takes place at a critical moment in Israel’s history. Due to centuries of continued, unrepentant sin, God’s people had been exiled from their homeland and taken to Babylon. But now they have returned and are determined not to repeat the sins of the past. In Nehemiah 9, the returned exiles offer up a prayer of confession to God and recount their nation’s long history of disobedience against Him. In verses 16–21, they remember Israel’s sins as they came out of Egypt: they were arrogant, they didn’t listen to God’s commands, they appointed a leader to take them back to Egypt, and they even made a golden calf to worship. They gave God plenty of reasons to give up on them.
But they don’t only recall their past sins. They also remember God’s mercy. They recall that in response to these events, God “did not abandon them,” nor did He “withhold … manna from their mouths.” Instead, He “gave them water” and “provided for them” so that they “lacked nothing.” And all of this happened “[e]ven after they had cast an image of a calf for themselves.”
Like Israel, we all have a rap sheet of moments that we are ashamed of and would just as soon forget, a list of reasons that can make us feel like unworthy objects of God’s love. But these are times to remember God’s posture to Israel: “[He] did not abandon them”; “[He] did not withhold”; “[He] gave them”; “[He] provided for them”; “they lacked nothing.” This was His posture to them “[e]ven after” they made the Golden Calf, and as those who are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, it is certainly His posture to us today, “[e]ven after” we—well, fill in the blank.
Through Jesus, God shows us that we are treated far better than we deserve. God’s actions toward us are not a response to what we deserve but rather a response to the grace He has shown to us through Jesus. Though our list of sins may be long, God has not abandoned us. He has provided for us.