By Benjamin H. Liles
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? In the same way faith, if it doesn't have works, is dead by itself. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works" (James 2:14, 17-18, Holman Christian Standard).
It's an amazing scene as Jonah walks into the great city of Nineveh. We're told the city is so big: "an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:3b-4, New King James). And of course the very next verse tells us the outcome, for we read, "So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them" (Jonah 3:5).
The whole reason I started this post off with what James writes is because faith and works go hand in hand. The people of Nineveh heard what Jonah said, and they believed--they had faith--God would accomplish this thing He declared. So their response? "They proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth" (Jonah 3:5). The psalmist writes, "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer kept returning to my bosom. I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother" (Psalm 35:13-14, New American Standard).
From everything indicated in these verses from both Psalms and Jonah, fasting and allowing oneself to be humble--the putting on of sackcloth, told God this person was quite sincere about how they saw their sin as being. They saw their sin as being "become utterly sinful" (Romans 7:13c). They heard God's law, from Jonah's mouth, about their wickedness and they not only believed the words God gave him to speak; they also repented. As I said in other articles repentance is a full turning away from having done something. It is an action that says, "I'm done doing this thing, this event."
Let me put it another way: when my dad was told by a doctor he needed to stop smoking as it was putting pressure on his heart, my dad gave up smoking. In this sense my dad "repented" smoking. Yes, he has problems with his heart still, but due to his actions in giving up smoking there is less stress put on his heart. Likewise God does the same when we repent of active sin and it doesn't matter what sin it is: lying, cheating, adultery, homosexuality, licentiousness, lasciviousness, etc., and so on. I don't have to go through the whole list. The point is that when we repent of sin in our lives, God can do His work on us.
So, this thing God does on behalf of Nineveh, forgiving their sins--at the moment--keeps them from being destroyed. Eventually God would destroy Nineveh, but not in the time frame of Jonah. God kept His hand from cutting off the people of Nineveh from seeking Him and His face. the last thing we read is that "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it" (Jonah 3:10). God saw their faith in Him, saw the actions they went through to humble themselves in their faith, and He kept disaster from them that would destroy them.
We can learn something from scriptures and how they relate to us, how the Bible is still relevant even today. The implication here is that God is a rewarder of a person who puts their faith in Him. The works with which your faith produces, repentance and humility, shows God He can do something good and important in your life. When Christ died in our place so we could have His righteousness before God, the Father, we are reconciled to a holy and just God. This transference of sinfulness to righteousness is done by His grace and mercy. God has relented from bringing disaster on you. The wrath He once would have given is replaced by His enduring love for you. It is why Peter says, "The Lord...[[is] not willing any to perish" (2 Peter 3:9). We have hope in God to keep and preserve us, but our faith in Him and in the Son, Jesus Christ, should also show Him how we see our own sin. I pray this helps you today in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.