The Bible is filled with the term “mercy”. We know that our God is a merciful God. We are told to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35) The Gospel of Matthew tells us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”(5:7) But what exactly is it?
According to the Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology the word “mercy” comes from a number of Hebrew and Greek sources. According to Baker, the chief Hebrew term translates to mean God’s covenant loving-kindness. In both the Greek translation of the Old Testament and the New Testament it also relates to compassion, pity, and the feeling of sympathy for the object of mercy.
God’s covenant, or promise, is loving-kindness to His people. He promises His compassion and His pity for His fallen people which extends beyond our capacity to comprehend. But since God promised mercy to His people we can trust it, because God in His very nature is a keeper of His Word. We are told in Deuteronomy, “know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations, (Deut. 7:9)” We can count on His mercy because we can trust in His promises.
All you have to do is look around and you will see His mercy everywhere. The mere fact that we are all still here proves to me that His mercy still covers us. But mercy, although endless in God, can change its form towards us. If at some point our ungodliness grows so dark and twisted, our rebellion so arrogant, and our impurity so obscene, God will seem to withdraw His mercy and replace it with judgement and discipline (which of course is still mercy).
Throughout Israel’s history we see this happen. In Lamentations 2:2 we read, “The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the habitations of Jacob; in His wrath He has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers.” It goes on to say in verse 21” In the dust of the streets lie the young and the old; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; you have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity.”
This fierce discipline is shocking to those of us who lean on the “God is love” excuse in order to keep on sinning. “Surely” we say to ourselves, “He will forgive me for these things I do. They are not that bad.” This self-indulgent grace-abusing attitude towards sin in the face of God’s loving-kindness is addressed rather forcibly by Paul in his letter to the Romans, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (6: 1-4 , 10-11)
Of course God actually is love (1 John 4:8). The real problem occurs in the discrepancy of our definition compared to what love actually is. In 1 Corinthians 13 there is one aspect of love’s definition that we tend to overlook when we are tempted to ride the grace train right on into sin. “Love… does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (6) Slam. Door closed. Black and white. We have no excuses. We tell ourselves lies when we excuse our sin.
Christ says, “If you love me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15) If we blatantly disregard, or excuse our sin, do we really love Him?
Discipline then, although at the time may seems to be completely void of mercy, is actually a greater mercy than we can imagine, for it says in Hebrews 12, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (5b-8)
Under the swift and forceful hand of discipline we have a choice. We can harden our hearts, or we can endure it with hope and see His mercy (Heb.3:8, 12:7)). When King Solomon had finished making the temple, the Lord said to him, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if My people who are called by My Name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. “(2 Chron. 11-14)
In His abundant mercy He grants us new life, in His loving-kindness we are forgiven by the blood of Christ, and in His merciful hand there is healing. (1 Pet. 1:3, Titus 3:4-6, Isaiah 58:8)
Let us heed the words of Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Let us get off the grace train, riding the rails of our own deception, and let’s keep our eyes only on the Lord. Let us confess that our excuses are empty and they are taking us far away from truth. (1 John 1:6)
And finally friends, let us cry out to our God, who is merciful and just, with the words of the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”(103:1-5)
After all, He gives grace to the humble, and the truth is, by His mercy alone, we have nothing to stand on but Him. (James 4:6, Psalm 40:2)