In the late 80s/early 90s, many families spent Friday nights gathered around their televisions watching the TGIF lineup on ABC. Full House was one of the most beloved family sitcoms. John Stamos played the loveable, Uncle Jesse, who is best remembered by his catchphrase, “Have mercy!”
While Uncle Jesse’s weekly need for mercy amused us, our need for mercy is no laughing matter. Mercy becomes a joke only when we fail to realize how desperate we are for it. When we realize the gravity of our sin and our inability to save ourselves from its power and consequences, our hearts should earnestly call out to God, “Have mercy!”
Charles Spurgeon said, “God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow than diminish the great mercy of God.”
Christ’s mercy is to be treasured and celebrated, but this is not possible when we possess a casual regard for sin.
The Greatness of Our Sin
We can’t begin to comprehend the greatness of the mercy shown to us in Christ until we realize the deeply offensive nature of our sin to God. Thomas Watson said, “Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”
We may think it a small thing when we lie, gossip, lust, and hate. God does not think our sin so small. God is so serious about it that He gave His son to atone for our sins. “ Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). We should weep and mourn at the great injustice of our rebellion against Him (James 4:9).
We cannot have Christ and our sin. We cannot sing about our love for Him Sunday morning and retreat into the world of pornography Sunday evening. When I lose my temper with my children, it shouldn’t be shared with my small group for entertainment value. I must confess my sin and ask for accountability because I know my anger does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20).
Sin is not to be tolerated, it is to be obliterated. John Owen said, “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” I won’t make peace with the lust in my heart, I will unplug the computer, turn off the television, or get rid of the book. I won’t laugh at my anger, I will pray for it to be replaced by love and meditate on Christ’s love for me.
Without understanding the seriousness of our sin and the great expense of satisfying God’s wrath, we cannot know the greatness of God’s mercy. As transgressors of God’s law, we deserve punishment. He is justified and blameless in His judgment (Psalm 51:4). We rebel against God’s authority and deserve the just punishment for our sin – death (Romans 6:23).
The Greatness of God’s Mercy
God doesn’t deal with us according to our sins (Psalm 103:10). This is good news! God’s requirement of obedience to His law is fulfilled in His Son. Christ lived the perfect life we could not live and died the just death we should have died. In mercy, His life and death are applied to us. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).
Our sin is great, but God’s mercy is greater. We are fantastic sinners. We excel in our rebellion against the kingdom of God. As great as our capacity is for sin, it is not greater than God’s capacity to forgive. Richard Sibbes said, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.”
Recently I was struggling with pride in a specific area of my life. I confessed my sin and experienced cleansing, thankful for His mercy. Within a few short hours, words flew out of my mouth that were boastful. Immediately, I felt shame and conviction. In the middle of a conversation with friends, my spirit was at the throne finding more mercy for my sin. In tenderness He gave it, and I was restored.
Instead of letting me continue in sinful boasting, He mercifully draws me toward Him, my true boast. In mercy, He doesn’t abandon me to my shame; He welcomes me into His presence as a purified daughter. When I was dead in my sin, He made me alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5).
His mercy is great. Praise God for His triumphant mercy!
Recipients of God’s Mercy
God’s mercy is for those who fear Him and obey His commandments (Psalm 103: 17-18). Fear and obedience are interdependent. We obey who we fear. Saul demonstrated this when Samuel confronted him after disobeying God’s command to destroy the Amalekites and all they owned. He said, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24).
Unlike Saul, we fear the Lord and obey His voice. We don’t just refer to God as our Lord; we do His will (Matthew 7:21). We obey our heavenly Father because we love Him. When we do sin, we confidently approach the throne and find mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
Every time I need mercy, my Father meets me at the throne with an abundant supply. God’s throne is a place of welcome and refuge for me. My Father meets me with open arms, glorified in my dependency, not ashamed by my neediness. I’m His, and He delights to show mercy to me.
Because we have been shown mercy, we will show mercy to others (Luke 6:36). Our God is the Father of mercies (2 Corinthians 1:3). Shouldn’t we, His children, be marked by mercy? Others will see the mercy imprint that marks us. We forgive when we’ve been wronged, instead of holding onto grudges, bitterness, and resentment. We respond compassionately towards the vulnerable, instead of looking away from them with indifference. We love mercy (Micah 6:8).
Lovers of mercy will echo John Newton’s words, “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
Response to God’s Mercy
We, the offenders of God, can receive forgiveness for our offenses. We, the rebels to God’s rule, can receive adoption into His family, through Christ (Romans 4:5). How do we respond to His great mercy? Certainly not in casual indifference, but in zealous repentance (Revelation 3:19).
When we realize the greatness of our sin, we run to our heavenly Father to find mercy. We see the greatness of His mercy. We respond in repentance and obedience. We live out our new identity in Christ in joyful obedience. We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We want Jesus, not our sin.
I’ve always identified with the tax collector in the parable Jesus told His disciples. While the Pharisee presented his case of self-righteousness, the tax collector, “standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13).
Like the tax collector, I know there is no case to be made for my own righteousness. I know that my only hope for escaping the just wrath of God is to cry out, “Have mercy!” May mercy mark you and me.