Mercy, Love, Grace
There is a beautiful statement Paul makes in his letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:4 but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Ephesians 2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved),
I find Ephesians to be such a masterful use of language in how much is taught and communicated in just a few simple words. Leading up to this wonderful characterization of God, Paul comments on the horrible, detestable, and rebellious condition that we were all in. We were “children of wrath” and “dead through our trespasses and sins”. Then he connects our hopelessness with two simple words that convey the greatest power in the universe: but God.
Paul provides commentary of three key traits of God that delivers us from being dead in trespasses and sins: Mercy, Love and Grace. It is the combination of these three traits that provided us salvation through Jesus.
Most discussions concerning salvation will give ample study to God’s love and the grace he has extended but what about His mercy? For a moment I would like to consider how great a part God’s mercy plays in our salvation. Paul begins this transition in Eph 2:4 to life in Christ with “but God” by first describing God as “being rich in mercy”. Simply stated, having mercy showed to us is to not be given what we deserve. What we deserved was to remain dead in our trespasses and then have final, everlasting condemnation pronounced on us. This stands in contrast to having grace shown to us and be given what we don’t deserve. And the bridge between the two is God’s love. These three traits are inseparable in describing who God is and what He has done.
God’s mercy is extremely important for us and is the first way in which God has shown us His love. His mercy allows us to avoid receiving what we should be given. As a Christian I believe that we all share a common and very heartfelt understanding of how important God’s mercy is to us, personally and individually. We’ve all experienced those restless nights with the dread and fear of what our sin has done to us, separating us from God. There are other synonymous words to mercy such as forgiveness. We have the saying “forgive and forget” and truly that is what God does when he shows mercy to us and forgives us our trespasses. This is seen in passages such as Heb 8:12
Heb 8:12 For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And their sins will I remember no more.
I want to connect this thought with something that is central to both the Substitution and Satisfaction views and the emphasis on God’s need to punish, which is asserted to be what God did to Jesus on the cross in our place. If God must punish all sin, then that is not mercy and that is not the God that Paul describes in Eph 2:4,5. This would be like telling someone that I'll forgive you only after I extract all that is due from this other person. That does not fit the basic definition of mercy or forgiveness. I recall the wise words of a good friend, a preacher of many years, that we must maintain the right “spiritual balance” and composure in our understanding of God and scripture. Over-emphasis of a trait or quality is like a body builder spending too much time exercising his biceps and ending up a distorted and grotesque mess. Over-emphasis on God’s need to punish sin, without fitting in His capacity for mercy, creates a distortion in our minds of God. This creates a picture of God that is not accurate to who He really is, what He has done, and how He did it.
To add even more to this point, consider the word that Paul uses in amplifying God’s mercy: rich. It’s not as if God showed a little bit of mercy but reserved part of it in order to satisfy His punishment of sin at the same time. No! The word “rich” conveys the idea of an over-abundance, a lavishing of God’s mercy upon us. That is not to say that there are no conditions to receive His mercy but that there are no limits to His mercy when granted. My dear brethren, the Substitution and Satisfaction views distort God into something that He is not. I pray that we open the scriptures and our hearts and minds and view God as he has revealed Himself to us, a God that is rich in mercy, love, and grace. He knows even more than us that we need all three and His magnificent capacity to give them to us!