The Terrible Lengths God Will Go to for Your Good

The Terrible Lengths God Will Go To For Your Good

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God’s salvation is a gift that we must steward, though managing His salvation does not imply we can lose it, an impossible feat. But we must share it with others. Suppose we do not steward God’s salvation by extending His gift to others. Who knows, God might go to extraordinary lengths to get our attention to motivate us to think differently about the gift. Jonah was one of God’s children who refused to steward salvation well, and the Lord did go to terrible lengths to turn Jonah in the right direction.

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Taking Care of Business

Jonah said salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Yes, and amen! There is no doubt about it. Even though Jonah messed up, he was not entirely off his rocker regarding how he thought about God and His salvation. Salvation is God’s, and He can choose to do with it what He wants, as we see with Jonah. And though he was a prophet, we do not want to dismiss his life as though it does not matter. Yes, he made a mistake, and his mistake made it into the canon of Scripture. Praise God for His grace. What if God dismissed us because we made a mistake? How awful.

What if you rejected someone because they did not meet your expectations? Even more terrible. The mature Christian will find the good in a person’s life and learn from it, which is why we can learn from our brother, Jonah. He said that salvation belongs to Yahweh, the covenant-keeping LORD God. Salvation is His, and if we receive it, there is no question it is an unearned gift (Ephesians 2:8). Though God’s salvation is a gift, it becomes a stewardship responsibility for the followers. We are to manage God’s salvation, a concept similar to other things in our lives since all things belong to God (Psalm 24:1-2). So, may I ask,

  • What do you think about your salvation?
  • Do you see it as a gift from the Lord?
  • How do you steward this gift from God?

We have been trying to parent this stewardship idea in our children. For example, we have told them for years “their room” is not theirs. “Their toys” are not theirs either. Even more importantly, “their lives” do not belong to them. Everything belongs to God. He did not provide salvation for us to use in a self-centered, self-serving way, with no appreciation for, acknowledgment of, and responsibility toward the One who gave us all these gifts. You’ll see a common cause of this theological breakdown in the person who “got saved so he would not have to go to hell.” He wanted to “get his ticket punched,” which is irresponsible salvation stewardship. It’s stunning enough that he is not going to hell, but salvation is much more than a reservation in the celestial city.

The Rusty, the Glorious

Imagine at Christmas if a relative took your gift and was irresponsible with how they used it. Perhaps it may be okay to take liberties with what you do with some of the things you receive, but it would be wise to be more gracious, thoughtful, and responsible with how you steward God’s gift of salvation. Jesus talked about prioritizing earthly and heavenly blessings when He distinguished between the rusty temporal and the glorious eternal. Temporal gifts and lasting gifts are different. The stakes are eternally higher regarding God’s salvation. The comprehensiveness of the gift of salvation is staggering, and our responsibility regarding that gift is sobering. It is the most expensive gift you will ever steward because it belongs to the Lord. No earthly reward can compare to the unearned blessing of salvation.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-20).

One of the instructive ironies about Jonah’s statement about “salvation belonging to the Lord” is the truth in which he spoke but the failure in how he lived out what he knew to be true. Jonah’s confession (orthodoxy) and his function (orthopraxy) were at odds. This tension is fundamental for all of us. Our beliefs and our practices do not always line up. Though Jonah was spouting off about God’s salvation—inside the whale’s belly—it was not long before he was angry and defiant again after God resolved his problem with that big fish (Jonah 4:4). What he knew to be accurate and his desire to live out this knowledge did not connect after he exited the whale. Praise God for His grace; God makes wide borders of mercy for people like Jonah. He gives His children room to wobble.

If you do a poor job stewarding the Lord’s salvation, you do not have to fret. He will help you to become a better steward. Warning: it would be a good idea to think about two of the ways He “helped” Jonah: (1) by hurling a storm at him and (2) by appointing a fish to swallow him. While my intent is not to scare you, it does elevate the seriousness of how God thinks about His salvation. It should also give us a different perspective on the trouble in our lives. Could there be a sovereign point to our troubles? Maybe the Lord, who owns our salvation, will go to unusual lengths to help us become better stewards of it. There is no doubt, according to the book of Jonah, that is what God was doing; He was allowing Jonah to learn how to manage salvation’s gift.

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Sovereignly Executing Salvation

Understanding how to manage the Lord’s salvation means we must understand more about how God executes salvation sovereignly, which begins by understanding how God controls everything. There is nothing over which He does not exercise power, and nothing is outside His control. If He were not in control, He would cease to be God. Nothing can thwart His plans for us—not even our sins. We see God orchestrating His salvation throughout the book of Jonah. He is behind the scenes working to bring Jonah to complete repentance. There is no doubt that God is in charge.

  • In 1:4, God hurled a mighty wind to help rescue Jonah.
  • In 1:17, God appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.
  • In 4:6, God appointed a plant to come over Jonah.
  • In 4:8, God appointed a wind to scorch Jonah.

While it is true the sailors threw Jonah into the sea, as we read in Jonah 1:15, Jonah gave us a sovereign perspective of God’s work in his life in Jonah 2:3. These are what theologians call the primary and secondary causes. This theological insight is outstanding news. The Lord sovereignly executes salvation, using pagan men to accomplish His purposes. We do not have a sloppy salvation. It is the Lord’s salvation. We can manage our salvation with confidence, courage, and gratitude. No matter our situational difficulties, God is in control, always working for our good.

  • Secondary cause: So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging (Jonah 1:15).
  • Primary cause: For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me (Jonah 2:3).

Experience Temporary Salvation

God’s salvation consists of past, present, and future components. In Ephesians 1:3-11, we know God was thinking about the execution of His salvation in eternity past. In Revelation 21:1, we get a sneak peek into our future salvation. There is also a temporal element to our salvation with our life on earth. The essential theological term for this is the “Ordo Salutis,” which is the process of transformation into Christ-likeness. The Lord’s salvation allows us to know and experience that (1) we have been saved, (2) we are being saved, and (3) we will be saved. Jonah was experiencing God’s salvation in the temporal, as we see God rescuing (saving) him from repeated errors in judgment.

Though salvation has a definite regeneration effect—you are born again—it also means God will be “saving” us throughout our lives. He does this so we can further mature in Christ because we are not entirely mature at regeneration (1 Peter 2:2). This truth places a responsibility on us to respond to God so we can grow in our relationship with Him. This “requirement of relationship with God” will help us to change. Sometimes the requirements of a relationship mean God has to bring things into our lives to motivate us to improve, as He did with Jonah. Our daily changing is how we can experience the Lord’s salvation today, in the temporal.

Understanding and applying this idea to our lives will motivate us to think differently about the trials in our lives. Our tests are not because God is against us. He is entirely on our side, but He wants to change us so we can more fully enjoy Him. At times the things He brings into our lives will challenge us to the core of our being. We see this throughout the Word of God—the Father allowing or bringing hardships into a person’s life to further His rescue (redemption) of them. He needed to do some dicey things for Jonah, e.g., a storm and a whale.

  • What is He allowing in your life?
  • Are you maturing in Christlikeness or sinfully reacting to your storm or whale? How you steward your trouble will directly affect how you steward your salvation.

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Extending Salvation Intentionally

I typically let the folks I counsel know that counseling’s end goal is not for them to become better but for them to go and make disciples. A key component to anybody’s salvation experience is intentionally extending it to others. There is an exportability factor to the Lord’s salvation. He did not save us to live like a Dead Sea—a body of water with no outlet. Christ, our example, models this well. He left His place to come to us to change our lives. He wants us to do likewise (Matthew 28:19-20). Jonah did not do this. He did not extend God’s salvation intentionally to others, which was the whole point of God speaking to him in the first place (Jonah 1:1-2). He did not want to share the Lord’s salvation with the Ninevites.

  • As a child of the covenant, are you calling others into a covenant life?
  • How are you exporting the Lord’s salvation to your spouse?
  • How are you an agent of redemptive care for your children?
  • How do your friends experience the Lord’s salvation through you?

You cannot have a clear identity with God without living out the calling of God. Jonah had a lousy attitude toward the people who needed to experience the Lord’s salvation. He was a poor steward of redemption. If you have a terrible attitude toward someone, you will not be a good steward of the Lord’s salvation because you will not export it well to them. Suppose you try to separate your identity (who you are in Christ) from your calling (your responsibility to live out your identity). In that case, you will truncate your experience with God and hinder those who need to experience the Lord’s salvation. To be a Christian is to act like a Christian. To do otherwise is “theological insanity,” which is living counter to who you are or, to use the Bible’s term, hypocrisy. Salvation is from the Lord, and He intends us to give it to others. What would hinder you from extending salvation to others?

  • To your spouse?
  • To your children?
  • To your friends?
  • To your world?

Part of our sanctification means if God rescues us, we are united to be with Him and on a mission with Him. We see this most prominently acted out in the gospel. If the gospel is about going, we must tell others about our salvation from the Lord. Jesus, whose name means Yahweh saves, is the ultimate example of a person who had a relationship with the Father and was an extension of the Father’s desire to restore others through rescue. Jonah did not want to be an extension of the Lord’s salvation. He mismanaged the gift the Father gave him. Rather than extending the good news to Nineveh, he ran toward Tarshish. God loved Jonah too much to let him mismanage His salvation. How about you? Which way are you running? Will you take some time this week to discuss this with a friend?

Call to Action

  1. Why is it vital to steward the Lord’s salvation?
  2. How has suffering motivated you to be a better steward of God’s salvation?
  3. Have you thought God was punishing you because of your suffering? Why is this thinking wrong?
  4. How you think about God and His acts in your life will affect how you relate to Him. Will you talk about how a wrong perspective on suffering could inhibit your relationship with God?
  5. What is your practical response to these thoughts about Jonah’s unwillingness to steward God’s salvation well?
  6. Will you highlight all the questions I have asked and write a short blurb about how you can practicalize it in your life? If you’re not a writer, will you talk to someone about these questions? Perhaps this would be a great discussion with a small group of friends.

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