The Lovingkindness of God

In the Old Testament, we see the salvation of God’s people bound up in His own kindness toward them. The Hebrew word hesed (pronounced “khesed”) is often translated as “lovingkindness” in many English translations. But it is also rendered in other ways, like “steadfast love” (esv) or “covenant faithfulness,” for example. The key idea is that, because of God’s own gracious character, He makes an unbreakable promise (covenant) to save His people. We see this expressed in Moses’ song of deliverance for the Israelites: “In Your lovingkindness [hesed] You have led the people whom You have redeemed; in Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation” (Ex. 15:13, emphasis added). God does not save and redeem because it is owed to them. Rather, He saves because of His own goodness and lovingkindness.

This specific kindness of God in salvation is further demonstrated over and against the wickedness of humanity. We read in Psalm 5,

For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness;

No evil dwells with You.
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.
You destroy those who speak falsehood;
The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit. (vv. 4–6)

However, David rejoices, “But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness [hesed] I will enter Your house, at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You” (v. 7, emphasis added). Again, David is not claiming that He is granted access to God because he is somehow better than other sinners, but because of God’s own “abundant lovingkindness” to him as an object of grace and mercy.

This stark contrast between human sinfulness and God’s saving kindness is beautifully expressed through the marriage of Hosea. The book of Hosea tells the story of a prophet named Hosea and his wife, Gomer. In the opening chapter, we learn that Gomer has violated her marriage covenant and committed adultery. However, because of his love for his wife, Hosea forgives her and takes her back. God uses the whole ordeal as a picture of Israel’s spiritual adultery against God and His own desire to restore her and receive her back to Himself. In redeeming her, the Lord declares, “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness [hesed] and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord” (Hos. 2:19–20). The Lord saves Israel, not because she is faithful or virtuous—she has sinned grievously!—but because God desires to save her by His own lovingkindness and steadfast love.

After Lot had embedded himself within the wicked culture of the people of Sodom, the Lord sent two angels to rescue him and his family from destruction. God, in His own righteous judgment, had every right to destroy the entire city and all its inhabitants, but He made a way for Lot’s family to escape by the help of two angels. As he is fleeing the city, Lot cries out to the Lord’s angels, “Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life” (Gen. 19:19).

Over and over again, the lovingkindness of the Lord is extolled as the reason why He provides salvation for His people. Not that sinners deserve to be saved, but God extends His own heart to them and sets His love upon them. This remarkable act is what motivates God’s people to say, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You” (Ps. 63:3).

Dying for His Enemies

In many ways, the stark contrast between humanity’s sinfulness and God’s kindness is even more pronounced in the New Testament. While it does not include the specific language of “kindness,” Romans 5 illustrates the amazing love of God to extend salvation to those who are worthy of death. In explaining the gospel to his audience, the apostle Paul reasons that, in terms of self-sacrifice, “one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die” (Rom. 5:7). In other words, if our best friend was standing in oncoming traffic, it is likely that we would risk our own life to save them. Most people could conceive of dying for a righteous person.

However, Paul turns the whole thing on its head by saying, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). And not just “sinners”—we read in verse 10 that we were even “enemies” of God! Now the illustration has changed. It’s no longer the idea of someone stepping out into oncoming traf- fic to save their best friend; instead, the person who is about to be killed is someone who betrayed, slandered, and hurt you severely—an enemy! How many people would give their own life to save their sworn enemy? Nobody would do that.

Yet God essentially does something like this. In our fallen condition, we were God’s own enemies. In our sinfulness, we despised God and purposed in our hearts to rebel against Him at every turn. We hated Him. This is why Ephesians 2:1–2 tells us that we “were dead in [our] trespasses and sins, in which [we] formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

This spiritual deadness rendered us as “children of wrath” (v. 3). Were God not to intervene on our behalf, we would be cast into the fires of judgment along with every other sinner who has ever existed.

“But God,” Paul wrote, “demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners”—even enemies— “Christ died for us.” Why would God do this? It is because of His goodness and lovingkindness toward us.

Adapted from The Kindness of God by Nate Pickowicz (© 2024). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

Nate Pickowicz
Nate Pickowicz

Nate Pickowicz is the pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire, and author of How to Eat Your Bible (Moody).