“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (Jam. 2:13).
Each of us can be thankful that God allows mercy to temper justice. Since “all have sinned,” and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23 cf; 6:23), each of us could properly be condemned to everlasting torment. God would not be unjust in that event and none could levy charges of inequity against him. Truly, grace and mercy go hand in hand, and it is by God’s grace that we are saved (Eph. 2:8,9). None of us will dare to ask for justice before God’s great Judgment. We will plead for mercy.
Our text states that mercy in some fashion wins out over judgment and this news should be received with joy on the part of every responsible person. However, the relation of mercy and judgment within God’s character will be compatible with God’s nature, so we should not quickly assume that mercy negates judgment. On the contrary, Paul warned that it is the “righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death. . . ” (Rom. 1:32). “Worthy of death” cannot be ignored in the context of a discussion of God’s righteous judgment. I fear that many have assumed that mercy will somehow cause God to overlook sin, discount it, fail to impute guilt or, in some manner, be so benevolent toward sinners that we feel we can sin with impunity. Many funeral orations seem to leave this impression by preaching the most reprobate of sinners right into heaven. However, whatever it means for “mercy to triumph over judgment,” it cannot be an absolute situation whereby mercy assures universal salvation to all men, regardless of their deeds. Remember, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
Definition of Mercy
God has a desire to help and resources adequate to meet all of our needs. Man is pitiable and miserable, which is, indeed, the truth, as we are afflicted with sin and unable to do anything about our condition. We need mercy and, thanks be to God, he wants to be merciful. Paul says that God was “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4-6) even while we were “dead in trespasses.” He is said to be the “Father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3) in that mercy originates and has its source in him. David pleaded with God to save him “for your mercies’ sake” (Psa. 6:4) and begged for forgiveness: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving kindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions” (51:1). However, David recognized a responsibility on the part of the one pleading for mercy. He said, “For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon you” (Ps 86:5). We must understand, therefore, that mercy is conditional, not absolute. What does God require of us for him to be merciful?
Mercy Has Conditions
God is merciful, but David has shown that mercy is bestowed selectively to those “who call upon God” (Psa. 86:5). “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep his covenant, and to those who remember his commandants to do them ” (Ps 103:17,18). Further, we read, “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord, one departs from evil” (Prov. 16:6).
Isaiah declares: “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (55:7).
All these passages, and many more, simply teach that God has made choice of those upon whom he will have mercy and those upon whom judgment will be visited. “Therefore he has mercy on whom he wills and whom he wills he hardens” (Rom. 9:18). This is not saying that God is arbitrary with his mercy, sending some to hell who want to go to heaven or sending some to heaven who ought to go to hell. But it is teaching that God has the desire to show mercy and that he has chosen to show mercy to those who call upon him,” “fear the Lord,” “walk in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7). On the other hand, the disobedient, the rebel, the wayward and backsliding will meet God’s judgment and justice (Rev. 1:8), not mercy.
Where is Mercy to be Found?
God has specifically identified not only the conditions by which mercy will be offered, but he has specifically identified the Person through whom mercy will be offered. Mercy is not administered haphazardly, not through merit, not according to a respect of persons or wealth, or because of lineage. Mercy is administered in Christ. This important point cannot be overemphasized. It is the theme of the entire Bible.
Once sin entered the world (Rom. 5:12), man needed mercy in the form of a Savior. This Savior was to be the seed of woman (Gen. 3:15). The Scriptures further identified the seed of woman as being the seed of Abraham (15:4) and the seed of David (2 Sam. 7:12). Isaiah explained further: “Incline your ear, and come to me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the sure mercies of David” (55:3). We are not left in doubt as to the meaning of this phrase since Paul identified it with Jesus and his resurrection in Acts 13:34: “And that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken thus, ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.” In these verses, mercy is firmly connected with Jesus as a fulfillment of prophecy. Other inspired men recognized this to be so. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit when John was born, saying that the Lord was fulfilling his covenant with Abraham, David, and Israel by “performing the mercy promised to our fathers” in sending John and Jesus “through the tender mercy of our God” (Lk. 1:67-79). Note that Jesus’ coming into the world is an act of mercy, an “outward manifestation of pity” toward those who “sit in darkness.” It was no accident that many of Jesus’ day, hearing his message and seeing his mighty deeds cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk. 10:47) They rightly connected Jesus with the promise of Messianic mercy.
Furthermore, not only is the coming of Jesus an act of mercy, but salvation in Christ is the focus of this mercy. Not all in the world will be saved, only those in Christ will be saved. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Our hope is rooted in Christ. Those in Christ are begotten again. Redemption is in Christ (Eph. 1:3), along with “every spiritual blessing.” Salvation is in Christ. Remission of sins is in Christ. Fellowship with God is in Christ. Eternal life is in Christ. Thus, mercy is not generic, found somehow in an attitude of looseness toward sin or an overlooking of sin, but specific: in Christ. Remember how David said that God is “abundant in mercy to all those who call upon” him? The New Testament reminds us that when we obey the gospel, we are calling on God: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord. ” Obedience to the gospel is the same thing as calling on God. The gospel is the good news of this mercy and is to be preached to the whole world. Those who accept Jesus as Christ and Lord by faith and baptism (Matt. 28:18-20 f; Mk. 16:15, 16) are added to Christ and his body (Acts 2:47 ff; Rom. 6:37; Col. 2:12; etc.) and he is the savior of the body, the church (Eph. 1:22, 23 f; Eph. 5:23).
Don’t wait for the Judgment Day, expecting in some vague way to plead for mercy as you stand before the Judgment Throne. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” in the sense that God has made it possible to extend mercy in the Person and Will of Christ when we ought to be condemned. All we who need mercy may find it in abundance as we turn in faith to Christ. In that way, when we stand before God, we will, as Paul, “be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). To appear before God outside of Christ and plead for mercy is to plead in vain. In Christ, we find mercy, and this mercy triumphs over judgment because our sins are forgiven, pardoned by the same Judge who appointed Christ as our Merciful High Priest (Heb. 2:17). It is in this manner that God can say, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (8:12). Indeed, mercy triumphs over judgment in the redemptive work of Jesus. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. . . ‘ (Rom. 8:1).