Practice Mercy, to Deserve Mercy?
This is the flip side of the four square gospel church’s sign from the previous post. We have been discussing on Steve Camp’s blog with many Roman Catholics the issue between justification and sanctification; about “It is finished” and “It is in progress”. The Roman Catholic seems to indicate that God declares us righteous only when we actually become righteous. However, the Scripture tells us that we are righteous based on the fact that God has not imputed to us sin, but has imputed to us the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ. Therefore, if we are believers, it is not that we can boast in our good works, which in fact would indicate that we “deserved” mercy. Rather we received mercy, because of God’s grace. For as the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5:
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
Our deserving of mercy is not because we practiced it, it is because Christ practiced it. Also we will note in the latter verses of that text that Jesus did not accomplish atonement for every single individual, but for those whom the Father has given Him. Notice Paul is addressing the church at Rome. The church is synonymous with the term “the elect”. However he terms those in chapter 1 verses 6 and 7 as “the called of Jesus Christ”; they are “the beloved; called to be saints. This is the context of the letter in general. Therefore we he makes reference in the early part of chapter 5 to we and us, he is not making some claim with every single person in the world in mind. Rather, he is speaking of God’s people.
This is an important point for this passage speaks of our weakness and our ungodliness and our sinfulness. But look, when we were in that condition Christ died for us. Let us not forget this one thing: many reformed people tend to just go for the intellectual stuff, rather than be moved with praise and thanksgiving concerning the truth they hold dear. Jesus died for me….in my place. When I think upon such things the words of the hymn, “Amazing Love, How can it be” come to mind, “that though my God would die for me?” What kind of unearthly love is this that Christ has shown towards me: a weak, suffering, miserable, enemy of God? He has redeemed me not because I practiced anything good, but because He is good.
Peter delivers much of the same message in the opening of the letter of 1 Peter. He says,
9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
On the “other side of the aisle” so to speak, will say, “See isn’t that clear? Peter says we have obtained mercy. How much plainer to you need him to say it?” Well, I will simply submit that mercy, by its very nature is not something the one in need of it can demand, nor is it something by nature that can be obtained by the person by his doing something. Rather, mercy is dependent upon the good grace of the person giving mercy, not the one who receives it and God has graciously granted mercy to His people. This mercy is borne out in the fact that they believe. Again, the passages that would refute even the argument that they somehow mustered such faith up within them would be John chapter 6 and Ephesians 2. Even 1 Peter itself references God’s sovereign work in His people from the opening verses:
2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Whew! Not only are we elect, sanctified, and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, but we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation! Praise be to God.
Now some may object to my points and say, “Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, ‘for if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses’.” The context of the chapter is in regards to Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. There he is bringing people back to the original intent of the Law. It was not to make men moral. It was to get to the intentions of the heart behind their actions. All throughout the Old Testament when the commands of God were given, the underlying discretions of the heart are either implicitly or explicitly tied to the action. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Jesus was very blunt when he addressed specific sins in this chapter and the nature behind them. They were indeed heart issues. Thus when He speaks of forgiveness here, He is not implying that we forgive to be forgiven. Rather the idea is that those who truly forgive other’s trespasses against them, are forgiven of their Father, but those who will not forgive, have not been forgiven. Remember Jesus put this in the model prayer just a few verses before. Therefore, there is Jesus’ exhortation to forgive.
The conclusion is not that we are to practice mercy in order to deserve mercy. It is just the opposite. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we practice mercy because we have become the recipients of the mercy of God. Therefore, let us demonstrate the same mercy we have received from God to others, thus presenting to them the way God responds to His people. We will either be the means He uses to draw them to Himself, or we will be the means of heaping upon their heads fiery coals. In either case, let us show mercy, for we are those who have received mercy.