I said in a previous post that the most important theological question is not, “Do you believe in God?”, but rather “What kind of God do you believe in?” The word “theology” comes from two Greek New Testament words, “theos” the word for God, and “logos,” translated “the Word” – i.e. the Word of God, but more than speech. It is the creative Word of God, God in action, the mighty acts of God; not only creating, (Genesis 1 and 2; 2, Psalm 33:6, John 1:1-5), but also revealing (Amos 3:7-8, I Corinthians 14:39-42, Ephesians 3:2-5, Revelation 1:1-20), and redeeming (Psalms 107:19-20, Isaiah 38:17, Hebrews 1:1-3, 9:11-12, 24-26, and 12:18-24).
These are the three words that identify for us the greatest of our God’s mighty works, as they are made known and interpreted in the Old and New Testaments: Creator (the Source of light and life, who brought “all things” into being by the power of His Word); Revealer (the one true and living God, who has made Himself known to us in His written Word, and in the Living Word, Christ Jesus, His full and final revelation); and Redeemer (the One who has redeemed us by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross – the sacrifice of Himself, rather than the many animal sacrifices offered in the temple by the Levitical priests, and offered not only on earth, but in the true heavenly sanctuary), with God promising, “I will be merciful…and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:1-12).
Some people believe in a god (little “g”) that is cruel, rather than loving and merciful – even a god that condones terrible acts of violence against those who do not believe in their god, a god who even rewards those fanatical devotees who commit such atrocities in their god’s name, a god that also approves of war, including so-called wars of “ethnic cleansing.” Furthermore, there are others who believe in a plurality of “gods,” some causing terrible natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes. and tsunamis – other gods that cause crops to fail with resulting famine. So, it is difficult to understand those who contend that all religions believe in the same god, and are simply offering different forms of worship to the same god, and different paths to the same destination. For nothing could be farther from the truth!
In my last post I explained that one of the things that makes Christianity different from all other religions is the offer of GRACE. Why? Because our God is LOVING and MERCIFUL, and therefore “full of grace” (John 1:14): “The steadfast LOVE of the Lord never ceases, His MERCY never comes to an end” (Lamentations 3:22) – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort (consolation)” (II Corinthians 1:3) – “By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead” (I Peter 1:3) – “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4).
I am convinced if we want to live in the total security of God’s forgiving love and amazing grace, if we hope to experience perfect freedom from haunting guilt trips and destructive self-condemnation, then God’s everlasting mercy must be understood, accepted, and experienced. Furthermore, if we are going to be able to show mercy, to share mercy, in our relationship with others, especially in the Body of Christ, then we must continually acknowledge our own need for God’s mercy day by day. Our awareness of our own sinfulness is the greatest when we are most conscious of God’s holiness, like Isaiah, bowing down and crying out in the temple, “Holy, holy, holy” (not just once, but three times, for emphasis) “woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips” (sinners cannot stand in the presence of a holy God) – like Moses, when he prayed for the Lord to show him His glory, and God replied that He would reveal His goodness to him and to His people, saying “I will be gracious to whom I would be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I would show mercy, but you cannot see my face (i.e. a visible manifestation of God, the full radiance of the majesty and glory of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), for no one shall see my face and live” (Exodus 33:18-20) – for the awareness of our own sin and unworthiness is greatest when we find ourselves in the presence of a holy and righteous God.
That is when we become most conscious of our own sinfulness, for the enormity of our sin is most clearly exposed in the pure bright light of God’s holiness – like the Apostle Paul, who following his conversion on the Damascus road, when he was blinded by a light from heaven that was brighter than the sun, and after being so convicted of his wretched state by the Holy Spirit who was opening his eyes to understand his spiritual bankruptcy, he cried out in his anguish of soul, “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” He answered his own question, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ my Lord”….”I have been crucified with Christ (i.e. the old life, the sin life, was nailed to the cross with Christ) and the life I now live, I Iive by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me?” (Galatians 2:20)
Perhaps you have never felt as strongly about your own sinfulness as Paul did. Perhaps you have never cried out in such anguish because you were so convicted of your unworthiness in the presence of a holy and righteous God. You and I may be able to sing “Amazing Grace” without ever having really felt wretched. We can sing lustily and joyfully “that saved a wretch like me” with absolutely no sense of hypocrisy, although we have never really felt wretched and totally undeserving of God’s forgiveness. Such hymns can make liars of us all! We may feel that our sins are not as grievous as the sins of many others, and that may be true. However, the greater truth is this, although our own sins may never be as great as the sins of some people we know, no matter how small our sins may seem to be when compared with the sins of others, if they are going to be forgiven it will be by the same everlasting mercy of God!
Finally, remember, MERCY is when a person does not receive what he or she deserves. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “little sin,” for there is no little God to sin against! The New Testament emphasizes that all of us, with no exceptions, are sinners by nature, alienated from God, needing to be redeemed and reconciled to a holy God. In fact, even stronger language to stress that there is no distinction with regard to our human condition apart from Jesus Christ, the Redeemer God has provided. Once again, I call to your remembrance this good news of the Gospel: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, has made us alive with Christ when we were dead in transgressions“ (i.e. in “trespasses and sins” – Ephesians 2:1-3).
However, this is only “good news” for those who know they have been redeemed, transferred from the realm of the dead to the realm of the living! Surely all of us who have this blessed assurance should also know that we are now “under obligation” (i.e. “in debt,” Romans 1:14), called to share with others what we have received. For MERCY flows in two directions, from God to us, and from us to others. What we have received, we are commanded to share. We are blessed to be a blessing. As our Father God, in Christ Jesus, has forgiven us, so we are to forgive others. As God has been merciful to us, so we are to show mercy. We do not show mercy in order to receive God’s mercy, we do not forgive in order to be forgiven, but because God has already been merciful to us, has already forgiven us. We love “because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).
PRAYER: Loving and merciful God, as we have received mercy, so let us become channels of Your mercy, forgiving one another even as we have been forgiven, loving one another even as we have been loved – also remembering how our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” for if we hope to continue being recipients of Your mercy, then we must be merciful. So let this truth grip our minds and hearts, so that by the power of Your Spirit at work within us we will become channels of Your mercy, Your grace, and Your love. Amen.