We as Christians love to think and speak about the grace of God. We love to meditate on it and be reminded of it often. We enjoy singing about it and ask for it in almost every prayer. God’s grace is amazing. It is central to the message of the Gospel. We do not deserve what Christ has done for us in making atonement for our sins. In fact, Paul reminds us that “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) He loved us first. What he did was totally and completely unmerited. It’s not as if God looked down and, seeing the heart-felt attempts of humanity to make their way back to him, sent Jesus after being motivated by compassion to offer us a sacrifice. No, humanity had utterly and completely rejected him. We chose our own pursuits. We worshiped ourselves. Christ’s death is a thoroughly gracious act. We simply have done nothing to deserve it. I think we need to be reminded of that within our self-centered, entitlement-driven culture.
There is another side of the coin, though, that I feel we neglect to ponder as much as the concept of grace. That is the mercy of God. Grace is a delightful thought, isn’t it? I mean, we have been given the very thing we needed to meet our greatest need. We love to receive…especially when we have done nothing to earn it. But, what about God’s mercy? Not as pleasant a thought, is it? What do we deserve? We have offended the holy God of the universe. We have rejected the life that the Creator has graciously given us, choosing instead to live for ourselves and for our own vain pursuits. What we deserve for violating the eternal God and his infinite law is infinite punishment. The punishment should fit the crime, right? And that is what we have done, and consequently deserve. Because God is holy and perfect, to set a standard any lower than that would result in God being an unrighteous judge.
Something that we need to do a better job of clarifying to a lost world is the fact that a holy God can let NO sin go unpunished. Every sin will be punished. We are only (graciously) forgiven because God’s wrath upon our sin has been deflected, so to speak, onto an innocent Jesus on the cross for all who have placed their faith in Christ and repented of their sin (1 Corinthians 5:21). What a picture of mercy! Why do we not dwell on that more? Here are what I think would be some results of pondering more on what we deserve and what God has relented from on our behalf because of Christ…
1. We would gain a more healthy view of God. We should fear God; and, in order to do this, we must see him for who he really is. When we dwell on grace and not on mercy, God can become nothing more than a grace-giver who is there only to meet our needs. All we want to do is receive. From time to time we need to come face-to-face with this terrible God who pours out his wrath upon sin. We need to see him as holy and fully deserving of our honor and obedience, which has been made possible through the death of Christ and the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
2. We would grow in our hatred of our sin. We need to see clearly God’s jealous hatred toward sin and strive to develop the same outlook, seeking to utterly massacre the sin that resides in our own heart that attempts to break our relationship with our Lord. We need to be confronted with the image of the cross, understanding that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and not just that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I don’t know about you, but when I viewed the Passion of the Christ, I became overwhelmed by God’s mercy as I watched Jesus unjustly face what I rightly deserve because of my sin. When God allowed the backside of his glory to pass by Moses as he crouched in the cleft of the mountain, I doubt that he became overwhelmed by warm and fuzzies! I think he instead trembled at the awesome power and might of God, resulting in an overwhelming reminder of the mercy God had displayed in not just wiping him off the face of the planet because of his sin. We see this picture of overwhelming mercy every time a human comes into contact with God throughout Scripture.
3. We would develop deeper humility. A consistent reminder of what we deserve keeps us from developing self-centered attitudes and thoughts. A guy with whom I attended college used to challenge us to, whenever we became aware of selfishness or self-pity, to place our fist in front of our faces and by lifting each finger recite, “I should be in Hell.” This has always made me think of God’s great mercy, as well as put me back in my place in understanding exactly who I am in light of who God is.
4. We would develop an even greater passion for reaching the lost. In being reminded of God’s mercy, we become fully aware of the reality of those whom the Bible calls “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). This helps us understand what David Platt says: “We do not have time to play games!” People who are not in Christ are under God’s wrath. Christ is their only rescue. We should be driven by the desire to clearly communicate the story of a God who, being driven by mercy, graciously provided a way of salvation through the rescue mission of Jesus. No message is more important. The reality is that holy God will pour out his wrath on all sin. Either a lost person will experience that wrath for all of eternity in a place of punishment called Hell, or the believer can experience mercy, understanding that God’ wrath has been instead poured out on Jesus on his behalf.
5. God’s grace is magnified through the lens of His mercy. I am not advocating that we all should be more somber in life, less excited by God’s grace. Believers should live in the ever-growing knowledge of God’s grace! But, we only come to know just how amazing God’s grace is through a growing knowledge of His mercy. A reminder of what God saved us from, knowing we fully deserve it, can only serve to fan the flames of passion within our hearts for loving and serving Him with our whole hearts. It is because of his mercy that we get to experience his incredible grace!
“But God, being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7)