Praise God that He withholds what is deserved!
By Don Ruhl
Consider the difference between grace and mercy. By grace God gives what we do not deserve. By mercy God withholds what we do deserve.
Ezra 9 shows that the scribe understood grace and mercy. Hear him pray to God concerning grace in verse 8, then hear him pray concerning mercy in verses 9 and 13, “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage. For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem…And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this… (Ezra 9.8, 9, 13).
By grace God gave them a peg, but at least some part in His holy place. By mercy God gave, but withheld the totality of punishment.
Jeremiah in Lamentations 3 showed a picture of mercy at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. While Jerusalem suffered more than we can imagine, yet, God did not completely obliterate the city. It barely survived to be revived in seventy years. As the prophet surveyed the humiliation of Jerusalem, he spoke of the Lord’s mercy,
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
(Lam 3.22, 23)
The prophet knew that God’s mercies prevented annihilation.
What both Ezra and Jeremiah said of God’s mercy upon Jerusalem, every Christian can say about his or her soul.
If Jerusalem experienced less than her sins deserved, and if Jerusalem was not consumed for her iniquities, then Christians—who have more knowledge and wisdom revealed to them—yet, who also sin, but who continue to live upon this earth and have not been cast down to hell, should certainly know the Lord’s mercies. We should praise God even more than those two men did.
The Holy Spirit through Paul designed the Book of Romans to highlight the riches of the unsearchable depths of the mercy of God. If you understand what Paul said on God’s dealings with the entire world as taught in the Old Testament, you will understand the mercy that He shows to the world.
Romans and the Mercy of God
Most preachers, commentators, and scholars will say that the theme of the Book of Romans is the righteousness of God.
I believe the mercy of God is the primary theme. We need the righteousness of God, having fallen short of it, but it is the mercy of God that makes His righteousness available to us. Let us see how Paul showed us the mercy of God.
Starting in Romans 1.18 Paul presented the sinfulness of humanity, first, showing the problem of the Gentiles (Rom 1.18–32), then the problem of the Jews (Rom 2.1–3.8). He argued in Romans 3.9–20 that everyone is under sin. He began this section saying, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin” (Rom 3.9).
Why did Paul labor with over 1300 words to say that? Why do we have to know that all of us are under sin? Sin brings the most serious consequences, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1.18). “But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things” (Rom 2.2). “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’” (Rom 2.5, 6). “…but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (Rom 2.8, 9).
He topped off that section in 3.19, 20 saying that the whole world stands guilty before God, and that no one can find justification by the deeds of the Law, because the primary function of the Law was to give us the knowledge of sin.
We have to know the Old Testament’s view of sin and that the Old Testament shows we are all sinners.
Starting at Romans 3.21 to 4.25 Paul changed his tune, explaining that apart from the Law, God has revealed His righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. What justified Abraham, justifies us, which is faith (Rom 4).
Romans 5 explains that we have peace with God through faith in Jesus. Without faith, we had wrath from God, because we had followed Adam’s path of sin.
Since God has saved us, Romans 6 exhorts us to cease sinning. It does not make sense to continue in the very thing that brought the wrath of God upon us.
In Romans 7 Paul wanted us to understand that the Law, the Old Testament, was not and is not, a bad thing. He argued that we have to know it to know of our sin.
So, he argued in Romans 8 that since we have been freed from sin and death, we have God’s Spirit within us and if God would give us His Son, He will give anything else we need.
Romans 9–11 addresses the problem of Israel. Christians still do not understand Israel’s part in the plan of redemption. Throughout Romans, especially in 9–11, Paul quoted generously from the Old Testament, helping us to understand the relationship of Jew and Gentile. Why did God make the distinction? Why were the Jews God’s people at one time? Why are the Gentiles now His people? Romans 11 explains those things. Ultimately God desires to save all people.
In Romans 9–11 Paul says, “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom 9.15, 16). “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (Rom 9.18).
God used the Jews to bring salvation to the Gentiles. Now He is using the Gentiles to bring salvation to the Jews. Here is how He is doing that and this culminates Paul’s argument, “For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom 11.30–32).
The first eleven chapters explain what God did to show man that he is lost, but what God did to save man. He showed that everyone had been disobedient to Him, but He did not show that to condemn the world, rather that He might show mercy to the world. The mercy of God moved Paul to argue that we learn to show mercy. That is the theme of Romans 12–16. He began that section by saying, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12.1).
Do everything that God wants you to do, because God has been merciful to you. Romans 15 show this very thing, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: ‘For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name’” (Rom 15.7–9).
Do you need God’s mercy? Do you need to show mercy? We cannot receive mercy, if we do not show mercy, “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy” (Matt 5.7).