Eph 2:3-5 (NIV) ...Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.
A good way to understand the meaning of mercy is to see how it relates to grace:
- Mercy--not getting what you do deserve / withheld punishment
- Grace--getting what you don't deserve / unmerited favor
Mercy is like a judge finding you guilty, but then withholding any punishment. Grace is getting something you could never have imagined. An inexplicable gift. It's like the same judge awarding you $10,000,000.00, after finding you guilty! In this sense, mercy can be thought of as the opposite of grace, or perhaps more correctly--the inverse. The words are normally used in Scripture as defined, though occasionally the distinctions are blurred. In Greek as in English, mercy can also mean pity or compassion. (The King James Version, for example, often translated the word love as mercy.) For the purpose of this study, we will focus on mercy as "not getting what is deserved" in the here and now.Ex 33:19 (NIV) ..."I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
God forgives all confessed sin. By grace we are saved and "put right with" him. But will He intervene to withhold earthly consequences? Will He show mercy? How many times? Even after we know better? Let's look through Scripture to see why, when, and if God doesn't give some of us what we deserve.Lam 3:39 (NIV) Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins?
Jer 21:14 (NIV) "I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the Lord."
Num 32:23 (NIV) "...You may be sure your sin will find you out."
Is God ineffective at making "sure our sin finds us out"? Are we really getting away with it? Can we continue to count on God's mercy if we remain unrepentant?
Why Does A Holy God Let Us Get Away With Sin?
Rom 2:4 (LB) Don't you realize how patient he is being with you: Or don't you care? Can't you see that he has been waiting all this time without punishing you, to give you time to turn from your sin? His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.
Rom 2:4 (Phi) Are you, perhaps, misinterpreting God's generosity and patient mercy towards you as weakness on his part? Don't you realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
2 Pet 3:15 (Jer) Think of the Lord's patience as your opportunity to be saved.
When We See Just How Far God Will Go...
Think of how much mercy God has given us. Most of us have never contracted herpes, AIDS, or gotten pregnant out of wedlock! We've miraculously avoided accidents we deserved due to reckless, inattentive, even drunk driving. And so on. God's angels must be working overtime administering His mercy.1 Tim 5:24 (Phi) Remember that some men's faults are obvious, and are equally obviously bringing them to judgment. The sins of other men are not apparent, but are dogging them, nevertheless, under the surface.
Job 33:27-30 (NIV) ..."I sinned and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light of life." God does all these things to a man--twice, even three times--to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him."
Prov 28:13 (NIV) He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
God's Mercy Is Vast And Amazing
Ezra 9:13 (NIV) "What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved... Shall we again break your commands...?"
1 Tim 1:13 (Jer) Even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance.
1 Tim 1:15-16 (Phi) ...I realize that I was the worst of them all, and that because of this very fact God was particularly merciful to me. It was a demonstration of the extent of Christ's patience towards the worst of men, to serve as an example to all who in the future should trust him for eternal life.
Heb 4:16 (Phi) Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need.
Ps 103:8,10-14 (NIV) The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love... He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
Micah 7:18 (NIV) Who is a God like you, who pardons sins and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.
Who Needs Mercy?
Rom 3:23-27 (Jer) Both Jew and pagan sinned and forfeited God's glory, and both are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus who was appointed by God to sacrifice his life so as to win reconciliation through faith. In this way God makes his justice known; first, for the past, when sins went unpunished because he held his hand, then, for the present age, by showing positively that he is just, and that he justifies everyone who believes in Jesus. So what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them...
Rom 11:30-32 (Phi) Just as in the past you [pagans] were disobedient but have found that mercy which might have been theirs [the Jews] but for their disobedience, so they, who at the present moment are disobedient, will eventually share the mercy that has been extended to you. God has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all.
Flirting With Disaster; Taking God's Mercy For Granted
Rom 2:5 (Phi) Or are you by your obstinate refusal to repent simply storing up for yourself an experience of the wrath of God in the day of his anger when he shows his hand in righteous judgment?
Rom 2:5 (Jer) Your stubborn refusal to repent is only adding to the anger God will have toward you on that day of anger when his just judgments will be made known.
Rom 1:32 (Jer) They know what God's verdict is: that those who behave like this deserve to die--and yet they do it; and what is worse, encourage others to do the same.
Gal 6:7 (Phi) Don't be under any illusion: you can not make a fool of God! A man's harvest in life will depend entirely on what he sows.
Rom 11:22 (Phi) You must try to appreciate both the kindness and the strict justice of God. Those who fell experienced the justice, while you are experiencing his kindness, and will continue to do so as long as you do not abuse that kindness...
When Mercy Is Not Granted
Grace is unlimited, and forever, and we will focus on it in a separate study. Mercy, in the sense we mean, is vast but limited, and will end in either: 1) Repentance leading to salvation by grace, or 2) stored-up wrath and eternal punishment. In the meantime, God is calling us out of mercy and into obedience. Eventually it dawns on all of us that we cannot "get away with" unrepentant sin. It's as if God gradually withdraws his mercy after we have come to a knowledge of the truth. God's mercy has served it's purpose, now it is time for obedience.1 Pet 4:17-18 (Jer) The time has come for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if what we know now is only the beginning, what will it be when it comes down to those who refuse to believe God's Good News?
While evil men go from bad to worse, we can no longer even get away with sins of omission! (Jam 4:17) Like children, we object: "Everyone else is doing it!", or "I used to be able to!"--when God "meddles with our affairs". Some of us have already experienced the dramatic extent of how far God will go to form "Christ in us". When the fear of God hits us, our prayers for deliverance from sin are finally answered--God literally scares the hell out of us! Have you experienced this? Think what it would mean if we really could "get away with" sin!Heb 12:6-8 (KJV) For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
Rom 12:1 (Jer) Think of God's mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God.
Ex 34:6-7 (NIV) ..."The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the wicked unpunished... "
Identification With The Sufferings Of Others
Rom 9:15 (NIV) ..."I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
Occasionally God chooses not to grant us mercy; for the purpose of judgment, rebuke, discipline, or testing. Fortunately, for most of us, this is the exception, not the rule. For the time being, God has shown incredible patience and mercy by withholding most of the effects of our sins.Luke 23:40-41 (NIV) ..."Don't you fear God?" he said... "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
If God chooses to give us or someone we know "what we deserve", how should we respond? If it is us, fear and repentance cannot be achieved too quickly. If to anyone else, we have an occasion to voluntarily share in the sufferings that we have been mercifully spared. Why would we willfully do this, if God hasn't made us suffer for our sins? Because by sharing their sorrows we can voluntarily feel what we in fact deserve ourselves, and can help restore them. And given our tendencies, who knows but that we may be next?Jude 23 (NIV) Snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear...
Gal 6:1-2 (NIV) Brothers, if a man is trapped in some sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself; you may also be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
The Parable of The Unmerciful Servant
Mat 18:23-27 (NIV) "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go."
Mat 18:28-31 (NIV) "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened."
Mat 18:32-35 (NIV) "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart."
Micah 6:8 (NIV) He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Luke 1:50 (NIV) "His mercy extends to those who fear him..."