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Welcome back to part three of our series on mercy. So far we’ve discussed God’s mercy in general as well as God’s mercy in salvation, and today we’re going to talk about God’s mercy in us — not “to us,” but in us.
If you’re new to the show, you should listen to the two previous episodes, but you should also visit CelebrationOfGod.com and listen to our introductory episodes so you can fully appreciate this discipleship experience. And while you’re there, you can access the episode notes, transcripts, and worship resources for this series.
And now let’s talk about God’s expectations for our mercy.
If you remember, we learned that mercy is compassion which grows from love. And I have mentioned before that the basic idea behind biblical love is that we are wanting and working toward God’s best interest in the life of the person we love . . . whether or not they want that love or are deserving of that love.
If I want God’s best for your life, I’m going to have compassion on you. And — specifically — I’ll be willing to not give you what you deserve — I’ll be merciful.
Now, there are caveats to this.
1. God does expect men and women in positions of authority to give just consequences.
I just did a series on Truth.Love.Parent. all about consequences, and though we don’t have time to delve into it today, I do need to say that mercy and justice and not incompatible. In fact, God expects us to be just and merciful at the same time. Understanding both of these concepts is a prerequisite to submitting to God’s expectations.
2. Sometimes mercy isn’t in your power to give.
You may not be able to withhold a consequence because it’s not yours to withhold. For example, unless you happen to be a judge in the United States, it’s not in your power to keep a criminal from the consequences on their crimes.
Also, you may not be able to give something that you don’t have. I’d love to give all my listeners a million dollars . . . but it’s just not something I can do.
Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in your power to do it.”
That condition is important.
Another point is that we’re all finite. You can only 100% relate to one person at a time, and — let’s be honest — we don’t even always do that well. That means that when you’re 100% ministering to one person, you’re going to have to ignore everyone else. When you do that, you’re not actively being merciful to everyone else. However, this is not sinful, it’s simply a consequence of being mortal. It’s not in your power to be merciful to everyone on the planet at the same time.
And 3. Sometimes it’s unmerciful to withhold certain consequences.
As I mentioned earlier, justice and mercy must be fully functioning as we interact with people, and sometimes the most merciful thing we can do is give a just consequence because it’s through the discipline that God plans to mature the individual.
Now, these points are not the main focus for today, but I share them so that we don’t pigeonhole ourselves into thinking that giving consequences is always unmerciful or that unless I burn myself out doing good in the world, I’m not as merciful as I should be.
Too often we imagine merciful people as being doormats or soft on sin, but that could not be further from the truth because God is perfectly merciful, and He is neither a doormat nor soft on sin.
So, what does God expect of you and your mercy?
1. Mercy is a result of life in Christ.
God expects that you be in a saving relationship with Him.
Matthew 5:3-12 is one of my favorite passages, however, I believe referring to it as the “Beatitudes” strips it of some of its power.
Yes, we should desire to be poor in spirt and mourners and gentle and peacemakers, but I don’t believe this list is simply a collection of randomly lauded character traits.
I believe this list represents the trajectory of life in Christ. I believe the latter character traits actually grow from the previous.
I’m going to read verses 3 though 7 and illustrate my point. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
You will never be merciful as God is merciful if you do not hunger and thirst for the holy righteousness of God.
However, you will never yearn for holy living if you haven’t been regenerated by God. And you will never be regenerated by God unless you come to Him humbly acknowledging your inability and putting your trust in Him.
But you won’t do that until you’re grieved by the fact that your sin is an affront to your Creator and King. And you won’t do that until you recognize that you are completely spiritually destitute — incapable of earning favor with the Lord.
This means that in order to be merciful, you must first have come to Christ recognizing your need, being grieved over your rebellion, and humbly submitting to Him. Only then will He enable you to desire righteousness. And the first outworking of that righteousness in your life is mercy.
Now, that’s not to say that other character traits won’t flourish in concert with mercy, but as far as this list is concerned, mercy should be one of the first-fruits of spiritual life.
And that makes all the sense in the world.
Not only are humans incapable of righteousness on our own, but how could we who have received so much mercy from God not offer it to others?
In Luke 7 Jesus is having dinner at the house of a Pharisee named Simon, and a prostitute enters the room and anoints Jesus’ feet with oil, washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair. Of course, Simon can’t believe that a prophet of God would allow such a person to touch Him, but listen to how Jesus responds starting in verse 40: “‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he replied, ‘Say it, Teacher.’ 41 ‘A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?’ 43 Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’ And He said to him, ‘You have judged correctly.’ 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ 48 Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.’”
The obvious condemnation is that Simon was neither merciful to Jesus nor the woman because Simon had not received the mercy of God.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Even though the servant had been forgiven a lifetime of debt, he refused to have mercy on someone who owed him 100 days’ wages.
In verse 32 the Lord of the unforgiving servant said, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
But not only is mercy one of the first-fruits of those who have been born again . . .
2. Mercy matures as we are conformed to Christ.
Going back to Matthew 5, I want to start in verse 7 and read to verse 12. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
If you are a merciful individual, you will grow in your purity. You will learn to hate the sin from which you’ve been saved, and you will live an increasingly mature life. This will naturally have an effect on how you show mercy to others . . . so much so that you will be known as a peacemaker.
When conflict arises, instead of unmercifully “giving them what they deserve,” your main goal will be reconciliation. No one deserves that, but your desire to show mercy will propel you.
In fact, it will so motivate you as you grow in your sanctification that you will be able to show mercy to those who persecute you. No one who is rejoicing and being glad in the face of persecution is seeking revenge on those who have hurt them.
Now, I wish we had time to walk through this next passage line by line. Instead, reflect carefully as I read, and then I’ll summarize it.
Colossians 3:12-17, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
As you grow in compassion, it will be accompanied by kindness, increased humility, gentleness, patience, sympathy, forgiveness, love, unity, peace, gratitude, knowledge of the Scriptures, wisdom, teaching, admonishment, and worship of God.
Now, I’m not suggesting that this passage is presenting these character traits as the result of mercy in particular, but I am saying that the Fruit of the Spirit grow together. Maturity in one area always results in maturity in other areas just like weakness in one area of the Christian life is a warning that there are deficiencies in every other area.
Therefore, if you are truly growing in your conformity to Christ, the mercy you show the people in your life will also mature.
Not only that, but so many of the items listed in Colossians are closely related concepts. Can you be merciful if you’re not being kind, patient, or forgiving? Can you show mercy if you’re not loving? Obviously not.
But the mercy you’re to show is not merely for a select group of people.
3. Mercy is for everyone.
There is no one to whom you are not allowed to be merciful.
James 2:8-13 teaches, “If . . . you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, ‘DO not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘DO not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
I love the play on words here. Judgment will rain down without mercy on us if we do not show mercy to others. Why is that? Because to transgress the law on any point is to be guilty of the whole law. If I’m not merciful to my fellow man, there will be consequences in my life.
Matthew 23:23 builds on this concept when it says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” We’re not truly keeping the law when we neglect mercy.
But when James said that “mercy triumphs over judgment” he literally meant that mercy boasts or exults over judgment. The idea is not that mercy and justice do not coexist, it’s that mercy toward others makes us confident that we will not receive judgment from God — so confident that it may appear as if we were boasting about the fact that we need not fear judgment.
We’re introduced to this truth early in the book of Luke. In Luke 6:27-38 the Lord teaches, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
We don’t have time to unpack this glorious passage, but the message is clear . . . by loving everyone (even your enemies), you will treat everyone well, you will sacrifice for and serve them, you won’t pass final judgment on them or try to give them consequences that aren’t yours to give, but you will give good . . . and all of that is the mercy of God being worked out through you.
But you may still be thinking, “How am I to show mercy to my enemies? I understand how to be merciful to people who deserve it or to people who are nice to me, but how am I to show mercy to people who are underserving?”
Well, if that’s how you’re thinking, I need to answer your question by observing that you obviously don’t truly understand mercy.
As we discussed two episodes ago, no one is deserving of mercy. We all deserve death in hell. In fact, mercy would be completely pointless if mankind were deserving of anything.
Therefore, given the nature of mercy and the nature of man’s need, it should actually be easier to show mercy to the most undeserving because . . .
4. Mercy flourishes toward unbelief.
In I Timothy 1:12-13, Paul writes, ”I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.”
Paul did what he did for the same reason we all sin . . . he was deluded. He was either ignorant of the truth, or he was believing a lie, and he was therefore deserving of all the consequences that come from self-deception.
And Paul did receive some of those consequences by the way. Even though he was trained in Jewish law, Paul disappeared for about three years to learn what he should have previously learned. It’s believed that Jesus Himself taught Paul for those three years to prepare him for his ministry to the gentiles.
But once Paul returned from seminary, there were Christians who were legitimately afraid of him. This was another consequence of Paul’s former choices.
But the ultimate consequence of separation from God was not something about which he needed to be afraid. He also didn’t need to fear being unusable to God. He was shown mercy precisely because he didn’t believe.
The same is true for us, and the same should motivate how we show mercy to others.
For me, it’s actually far easier to be merciful with people who I don’t know well. I pity them. I understand the delusion under which they’re living, and my heart has compassion for them.
But the more truth they know, the more of God’s Word they’ve been taught, I’m not as willing to extend them the same degree of mercy.
Now, of course I must be merciful to these people as well, but the Bible’s strongest condemnations are against professing believers who live like unbelievers. God commands that other Christians not salute them, not eat with them, and not fellowship with them at all.
This teaches that the greater the blindness, the more mercy we are to show. And the greater the deliberate rebellion, the less mercy we are to show.
Again, please don’t be confused. “Less mercy” does not mean unmerciful. It means that as mercy and justice work in tandem, they have to receive specific consequences, but they don’t receive others. For example, an unrepentant professing believer will have to be removed from the membership of the church. We will have to start interacting with them as though they were unsaved. This will result in not fellowshipping with them.
But it doesn’t mean I’m allowed to justify hating them or burning their house down or seeking revenge on them some other way because, well, “They deserve hell anyway.”
Jude 1:17-23 provides even more practical application for this point. He starts by laying out what we can expect from the world. “But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, ’In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.”
And then Jude explains our responsibility: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
If someone is doubting God, if they’re deluded in unbelief, have mercy on them. But be careful about apostates — professing believers who teach the lies of Satan. And be careful of those who highhandedly reject the clear teaching of the Scriptures. We are to have mercy on them, but this mercy is different. It’s mercy in fear, hating the pollution of sin.
For the first group, those blind in sin, we’re getting so close that we’re snatching them out of the fire, but for those who have heard and rejected the truth, our mercy isn’t quite the same.
In Matthew 9:10-13 we’re able to listen in on another conversation about this exact point: “Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
If we’re truly being merciful, compassion will come easiest to the most undeserving.
If we only show mercy to people who are nice to us, we fall under the condemnation Jesus mentioned in Mathew 5:46-47, "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Okay, by way of review . . .
1. Mercy is a result of life in Christ.
2. Mercy matures as we are conformed to Christ.
3. Mercy is for everyone.
4. Mercy flourishes toward unbelief.
And our final point for today . . .
5. Mercy benefits the merciful.
Now, this may sound self-serving, and — no doubt — there will be those listening to me today who may be tempted to start being merciful because of the benefit they hope to receive.
But if you’ve been learning from our studies in worship and discipleship, then you know that a sinful motivation is a result of fake-obedience and self-worship. It doesn’t please the Lord, and it will never receive the blessings of true worship and obedience.
So, why does Proverbs 11:17 say, “The merciful man does himself good, But the cruel man does himself harm.”
We serve an amazing, gracious, loving, and awesome God. He not only deserves our worship and is completely justified in killing us if we don’t give it to Him, but He’s also so loving that He provides a way for us to do what we could never do on our own . . . have a relationship with Him.
But not only that, He also chooses to give us spiritual blessings when we do the things He requires us to do. He doesn’t have to bless us for the obedience we owe Him, but that’s how fantastic He is.
So, yes, when we are merciful, we will receive mercy. When we are merciful, we will experience growth in our sanctification. When we’re merciful, we’ll experience contentment and joy even in the face of persecution.
But there’s another reason that God spiritually blesses His children. Allow me to illustrate it this way.
Let’s say that I hire a bunch of people to do a job, and I inform everyone that if they do the job perfectly as I have described it and in the time I require, each will receive $10,000. However, if they do not do exactly as I have instructed them in the time allotted they will receive nothing regardless of how long or how hard they worked.
Well, they all set out to work, but when the time limit expires, one third were doing so well, but didn’t finish, another third finished in the correct time but didn’t follow all the steps correctly, and the final third did exactly as they were told in the time allotted.
So, they each go to employee locker, but only one third of them receives a paycheck. The moment the others open their locker and find no paycheck waiting for them, what do they now know? They know they didn’t do the job the right way
Well, guess what. As a biblical counselor, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say things like, “I am trusting God, but I’m still so anxious.” Others believe they’re parenting well when they’re obviously responding in sinful anger. Others experience no joy as they walk through the religious habits of their lives. And still others swear up and down that they’re submitting to God, but they don’t stop complaining about His will for their lives.
All of these people — the moment they realized they weren’t receiving the conditional promises of God — should have realized they were doing something wrong.
Isaiah promises that God keeps us in perfect peace when we completely trust Him. James tells us that when we believe God, we will experience joy in trial. God commands that we be thankful in all things. The most oft repeated command in Scripture is “Fear not,” but the ability to live a fearless life requires that we rejoice in God, love others, thank the Lord for the situations in our lives, think correctly, and obey Him.
So, it doesn’t matter that we believe we’re being a “good Christian,” when we aren’t experiencing the peace of God that passes all comprehension, when we’re not rejoicing, when we’re ungrateful, and when we’re discontent . . . we know beyond all shadow of any doubt that we’re not truly worshipping God as we should.
And the same is true for mercy.
If I believe I am being merciful, but I am not experiencing the promised spiritual blessings of God, then there’s a far better chance that I’m not being merciful or as merciful as I should be or merciful for the right reasons.
God’s blessing is the icing on the cake for those who obey, and the lack of blessing is a warning. A “cruel man does himself harm.”
Obviously there’s a lot more we could say about being merciful, but — Lord willing — you’re going to take the rest of the Season of Mercy and continue this study. So, I want to leave you some amazing nuggets of truth to mine on your own.
However, when this series is complete in a couple weeks, I want to start another series that digs deeper into living a Merciful Life. In a way, that will be a continuation of what we’ve started here.
Of course, if you’re unsure where to start in your personal study of mercy, I plan to provide a resource for you on our next episode.
Until then, please share this series on your favorite social media outlets, and then I’ll see you next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we discuss celebrating the God of mercy.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.