For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deuteronomy 4:31 NIV).
God is merciful. The living God is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31; Daniel 9:9). But how is God’s mercy to be distinguished from God’s grace? Both are closely related, springing from God’s love and goodness, so we should not draw sharp distinctions between mercy and grace. For example, the repentant sinner is encouraged to return to God and receive a free pardon because God will have mercy. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7 NIV), and God’s forgiveness of his old covenant people is traced to his mercy (Psalm 78:3). Perhaps we can safely say this. Grace is God’s attitude and action toward sinners as undeserving, while mercy is his attitude and action toward sinners in misery. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy (James 5:11). In the instance of Job, his suffering did not come from his sin, yet he needed God’s mercy.
“It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful. This is a loadstone [magnet] to draw sinners to him… God is represented as a king, with a rainbow about his throne (Revelation 4:3). The rainbow was an emblem of mercy. The Scripture represents God in white robes of mercy more often than with garments rolled in blood; with his golden scepter more often than his iron rod” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 93).
Here are characteristics of God’s mercy:
- Like God’s love and grace, his mercy is sovereign and free. God extends mercy to people in misery because he chooses to do so (Exodus 33:19). God’s mercy causes him to extend mercy because he is “a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31).
- God’s mercy is the source of his redeeming activity, both regarding the old covenant nation (Isaiah 63:9), and the spiritual redemption of God’s chosen ones (Romans 9:15-16). From his mercy comes our rebirth into a living hope. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
- God delights in extending his mercy to sinners in their misery (Micah 7:18). Being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), he has drawn up a plan of showing mercy to all—to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11:30-32).
- God’s mercy involves powerful action on God’s part. He is able to relieve the suffering (Philippians 2:27) and to give us actual help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16), as we see many times in the earthly ministry of our Lord (Matthew 17:15; Luke 17:13; 18:38-39).
“One act of mercy engages God to another. Men argue thus, I have shown you kindness already, therefore trouble me no more; but, because God has shown mercy, he is more ready still to show mercy; his mercy in election makes him justify, adopt, glorify; one act of mercy engages God to more. A parent’s love to his child makes him always giving” (Watson, p. 94).
How should we respond to God’s mercy? Since we have been born again because of his mercy, God expects us to exhibit his quality of mercy to others. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:35-36 CSB; cf. Matthew 5:7; 18:33; Jude 1:22) with an attitude corresponding to God’s delight in mercy (Romans 12:8). God wants us to develop endurance in (2 Corinthians 4:1) and explanation of (1 Timothy 1:12-16) ministry that comes from recognizing that we are recipients of mercy. We are to face the future confidently expecting mercy from God (Jude 1:21). “Go to God for mercy. ‘Have mercy upon me, O God!’ (Psalm 51:1)… Give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but mercy to save me; give me the cream of thy mercies; Lord! Let me have mercy and lovingkindness… Though God may refuse us when we come for mercy in our own name, yet he will not when we come in Christ’s name. Plead Christ’s satisfaction, and this is an argument that God cannot deny” (Watson, p. 98).
Grace and peace, David