Last week we considered Justice, one of the attributes of God which is difficult to discuss because, inevitably, we know that we have sinned and that when God metes out His justice, we will be found wanting, fully deserving His punishment.
This week we are considering the attribute of Mercy. Mercy is the flip side of Justice.
Dr. R. C. Sproul contrasts God’s justice and mercy by reference to the land of Canaan when the children of Israel were going to overrun the people and claim the land as their Promised Land from God.
Of the multitudes of women and children living in Canaan, none was innocent. The conquest of Canaan was an explicit expression of God’s righteous judgment on a wicked nation. He made that point clear to Israel. He also made it clear to the people of Israel that they also were not innocent. It was not as if God destroyed a wicked people for the sake of a righteous people. To the Canaanites God poured out justice. To the Jews God poured out mercy. He was quick to remind the Jews of that in Deuteronomy 9:4.
R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 119.
The verses referenced by Dr. Sproul are instructive here:
“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”
To the Canaanites God poured out justice. To the children of Israel God poured out mercy.
This is consistent with God’s character as He revealed Himself throughout scripture. There is no deviation.
“And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Salvation cannot be earned, we cannot work to avoid the consequences of our sin.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.“
Paul puts the very granting of the faith to come to Jesus seeking salvation from our sin in the hands of the grace of God. Our works cannot obtain this salvation, so no one can boast that anything that we did accomplished it. The grace of God gave us this gift, and that my friend is mercy.
Mercy results in the withholding of that which is deserved so that the object of mercy is unharmed.
As we saw last week, sin, which is disobedience to God’s law, must result in punishment because God’s justice mandates such a result. However, when God grants mercy to an individual, that judgment is withdrawn, and His mercy eradicates the infraction which otherwise deserved judgment.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”
The result of God’s mercy is that we can come to God as our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, His Son and our Savior. The writer of Hebrews says this about the result of God’s mercy:
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
We can come to God, with confidence, because He has showered us with His mercy. Indeed, we can rejoice with Peter:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”
1 Peter 1:3
God’s mercy is amazing. Each person on this planet enjoys God’s mercy when He allows us to live, when He grants rain and sunshine, even though we sin and worship other gods, such as money, family, fame, fortune! God does not destroy us instantly when we have such idols in front of our eyes, rather than focusing our attention on Him. Instead, He has chosen to bless all people with His mercy now. For those in His Son, Christ Jesus, we will receive His mercy both now and forever more.
Father, we are humbled and once again left without words to express our thankfulness and wonder at the gift of mercy that You have given to us. May we walk in Your mercy and may we express Your love to others so that, by our words and actions, we may point people to Your Son, the giver of life and the sacrifice that atoned for our sin. We are blessed beyond compare, and we praise Your holy name.