Possessions delude the human heart into believing that they provide security and a worry-free existence, but in truth they are the very cause of worry. For the heart that is fixed on possessions, they come with a suffocating burden of worry. Worries lead to treasure, and treasure leads back to worry. We want to secure our lives through possessions; through worry we want to be come worry free, but the truth turns out to be the opposite. The shackles that bind us to possessions, that hold us fast to possessions, are themselves worries. The misuse of possessions consist in our using them for security for the next day. Worry is always directed toward tomorrow. In the strictest sense, however, possessions are intended only for today. It is precisely the securing of tomorrow that makes me so insecure today. “Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matt. 6:34b). Only those who place tomorrow in God’s hands and receive what they need to live today are truly secure. Receiving daily liberates us from tomorrow. Thought for tomorrow delivers us up to endless worry.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger, p. 82.
When the old Christendom spoke of the coming again of the Lord Jesus, it always thought first of all of a great day of judgment. And as un-Christmas-like as this idea may appear to us, it comes from early Christianity and must be take with utter seriousness…The coming of God is truly not only a joyous message, but is, first, frightful news for anyone who has a conscience. And only when we have felt the frightfulness of the matter can we know the incomparable favor: God comes in the midst of evil, in the midst of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And in judging it, he loves us, he purifies us, he sanctifies she comes to us with his grace and love. He makes us happy as only children can be happy.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger, p. 8.
The sovereign freedom of God. Ancient paganism thought of each god as bound to his worshipers by bonds of self-interest, because he depended on their serviced gifts for his welfare. Modern paganism has at the back of its mind a similar feeling that God is somehow obliged to love and help us, little though we deserve it. This was the feeling voiced by the French freethinking who died muttering, “God will forgive – that his job (c’est son metier).” But this feeling is not well-founded. The God fo the Bible does not depend on his human creatures for his well-being (see Psalm 50:8-13; Acts 17:25), nor, now that we have sinned, is he bound to show us favor.
We can only claim from him justice – and justice, for us, means certain condemnation. God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice taking its course. He is not obliged to pity and pardon; if eh does so it is an act done, as we say, “of his own free will,” and nobody forces his hand. “It does not depend on man’s will or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16 NEB). Grace is free, in the sense of being self-originated and of proceeding from One who was free not to be gracious. Only when it is seen that what decides each individual’s destiny is whether or not God resolves to save him from his sins, and that this is a decision which God need not take in any single case, can one begin to grasp the biblical view of grace.
– Knowing God, pp. 131-132.
More goodness from Packer:
The spiritual impotence of man. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has been almost a modern Bible. A whole technique of business relations has been built up in recent years on the principle of putting the other person in a position where he cannot decently say no. This has confirmed modern men and women in the faith which has animated pagan religion ever since there was such a thing – namely, the belief that we can repair our own relationship with God by putting God in a position where he cannot say no anymore.
Ancient pagans thought to do this by multiplying gifts and sacrifices; modern pagans seek to do it by churchmanship and morality. Conceding that they are not perfect, they still have no doubt that respectability henceforth will guarantee God’s acceptance of them in the end, whatever they may have done in the past. But the Bible position is as stated by Toplady:
Not the labors of my hand
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone
– leading to the admission of one’s own helplessness and to the conclusion:
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
“No one will be declared righteous in his own sight by observing the law,” declares Paul (Romans 3:20). To mend our own relationship with God, regaining God’s favor after having once lost it, is beyond the power of any one of us. And one must see and bow to this before one can share the biblical faith in God’s grace.
– Knowing God, p. 131.
The retributive justice of God. The way of modern men and women is to turn a blind eye to all wrongdoing as long as the safely can. They tolerate it in others, feeling that there, but for the accident of circumstances, go they themselves. Parents hesitate to correct their children, and teachers to punish their pupils, and the public puts up with vandalism and antisocial behavior of all sorts with scarcely a murmur. The accepted maxim seems to be that as long as evil can be ignored, it should be; one should punish only as a last resort, and then only so far as it is necessary to prevent the evil from having too grievous social consequences. Willingness to tolerate and indulge evil up to the limit is seen as a virtue, while living by fixed principles of right and wrong is censured by some as doubtfully moral.
In our pagan way, we take it for granted that God feels as we do. The idea that retribution might be the the moral law foGod’s world and an expression of his holy character seems to us quite fantastic. Those who uphold it find themselves accused of projecting onto God their own pathological impulses of rage and vindictiveness. Yet the Bible insists throughout that this world which God in his goodness has made is a moral world, one in which retribution is as basic a fact as breathing.
God is the Judge of all the earth, and he will do right, vindicating the innocent, if such there be, but punishing (in the Bible phrase visiting their sins upon) lawbreakers (see Genesis 18:25). God is not true to himself unless he punishes sin. And unless one knows and feels the truth of this fact, that wrongdoers have no natural hope of anything from God but retributive judgment, one can never share the biblical faith in divine grace.
– J. I. Packer, Knowing God, pp. 130-131.