Thoughts on God’s Transformational Mercy

For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant
with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath. ~ Deuteronomy 4:31

God the Merciful
Practicing theology and learning about God is a lot like looking into a kaleidoscope.  Every view, every glimpse is vibrant, intriguing, and unique because God has so many attributes.

When the finite and fallible interact and experience the Infinite One, we cannot help but be transformed!  And one of God’s attribute aims directly at this transformation – his mercy.transform4

God is described as the Father of mercies (2 Corinthians 1:3) and merciful (Exodus 34:6; Ne. 9:17; Psalms 86:15; 103:8–14; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2). He has compassion over all that he has made (Psalms 145:9); and it is through his mercy that we are saved (Eph. 2:4; Tit. 3:5).

First, A Word about Grace
Grace, biblically defined, is favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that person deserves and often God’s mercy and grace are mentioned hand in hand.  The Lord God is “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6). Therefore, grace is almost always associated with mercy, love, compassion, and patience.

In the O.T. the Hebrew word חֵן (hēn) (which basically means unmerited favor) is typically translated “grace” in our English translations and in the N.T. the Greek word χάρις (charis) is used for the concept of grace. One of the well-known passages on the unmerited favor of God is the conversation between Moses and God recorded in Exodus 33. There, in the space of six verses (Exodus 33:12-21), Moses is said to have found favor with God five times, hēn being translated either “find favor” or “be pleased with.” (As stated previously, notice the link between receiving God’s favor (hēn) and receiving the mercy, compassion, and blessings of God.)

The idea of grace first occurs in Genesis 6:8. Noah finds “favor in the eyes of the Lord.” The context is that the Lord was grieved at “how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become” (Genesis 6:5). This statement about the Lord’s antipathy toward man is followed by his promise that he will wipe humankind from the face of the earth, that is, completely destroy him, because of his anger at their condition. Noah is then described as having found favor in the eyes of the Lord. The themes of judgment and salvation, in which the vast majority of humankind are condemned to destruction, while God finds favor on a few (Noah and his family), reoccurs often in connection with the idea of grace. Hence, concepts of election, salvation, mercy, and forgiveness are all linked in this first illustration of grace in the Old Testament.[2]

The grace of God was supremely revealed and given in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not only the beneficiary of God’s grace (Luke 2:40), but was also its very embodiment (John 1:14), bringing it to humankind for salvation (Titus 2:11). By His death and resurrection, Jesus restored the broken fellowship between God and His people and has promised His people a sinless existence in the reconstructed New Heavens and New Earth. The only way for a sinful people to experience any benevolence from God is “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:11).[3]

Understanding Mercy:
Mercy is the aspect of God’s love that causes Him to help the miserable; just as grace is the aspect of His love that moves Him to forgive the guilty. As R.C. Trench put it, “grace is concerned for man, as guilty; mercy, as he is miserable.”[4] So, grace is God granting us forgiveness and favor though we deserve just punishment for our sin; while mercy is God compassionately healing us from our sin and brokenness due to being born into a sinful world.

The Hebrew words חֶסֶד (khehsed) and רָחַם (racham) are often translated as “mercy” or “merciful,” and other times as “love” or “loving-kindness” or “compassion,” etc., but for the most part both khehsed and racḥam express the idea of compassionate mercy (i.e., the giving of aid) for the needy, distressed, and miserable.[5]

The Greek word often translated to “mercy” is ἔλεος (eleos). Regardless of the Hebrew and Greek backdrop, if we look at the passages where “mercy” (approximately 150 occurrences in English translations) and compassion (approximately 50 references) occur in the Bible, the common definition is accurate: mercy is life-altering aid rendered to someone who is miserable or needy, especially someone who is either in debt or without claim to favorable treatment.

God shows mercy (life-giving aid) toward those who have broken His law (e.g., Daniel 9:9; 1 Timothy 1:13, 16), and this mercy is always selective, demonstrating that it is not deserved (Romams 9:14–18). And thankfully, God’s mercy on the miserable extends beyond withholding punishment. Withheld punishment keeps us from hell, but it does not give us healing and wholeness. It is through God’s mercy that we are healed and glorified (i.e., made sinless and deathless).

God’s mercy also is extended to those who are victims of circumstances beyond their control - this aspect of mercy is especially scene in the life of our Lord Jesus. He healed blind men (Matthew 9:27–31; 20:29–34) and lepers (Luke 17:11–19). These acts of healing grew out of his attitude of compassion and mercy.[6]

So, God gives mercy to both the perpetrators and the victims; and praise God for that, for we are both!

Finally, because God is merciful, He expects His children to be merciful:

20 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. 21 Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

(Also see: Matt. 5:7; James 1:27)

Gospel Transformation – The Effects of True Saving Grace and Mercy
There is an obvious overlap and connectedness of divine activity involved with the English words of grace and mercy; but together they bring about the goal of the Gospel of Christ – transformation and renewal (see Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:8-10).  God in the business of forgiving and fixing broken people!

As we receive God’s grace and mercy in the Gospel of Christ, we become “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). Again and again, the Scriptures call us to emulate God’s kindness and grace to others.

Colossians 3:13 - ….Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Matthew 6:12 - …Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

We were created to be God’s image bearers and through the Gospel he is transforming us into what he created/intended us to be all along.  He transforms us from lovers and pursuers of self into the peace-loving image bearers we were created to be (Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 3).

Give as you have been Given, Forgive as you have been Forgiven – Warnings about Hoarding God’s Blessings:
We (Christians) often get preoccupied with Christian activities and disciplines that can actually distract us from the lifestyle God has called us to live. Living for Christ, i.e., living for the Kingdom, is more than simply having a quiet time, being able to answer any and all theological questions, going to church every time the doors are open, praying before meals (even when in public), living “morally,” voting a particular way, etc… It’s about emptying ourselves (denying yourself) of all our entitlements and learning to live selflessly rather than selfishly, to become “givers” rather “takers.” Giving (of our time, money, and abilities) instead of hoarding is one of the best ways we resemble Christ (the grace and mercy of God) to the world around us.  For more, see Matthew 6:11-12; Proverbs 30:7-9; Matthew 10:7-8; Luke 12:13-34; and Colossians 3:13.

[1] Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. New Bible dictionary
[2] Elwell, Walter A. ; Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
[3] Taken from Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary definition of grace
[4] R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament
[5] Green, J. B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I. H. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels
[6] Youngblood, Ronald F.; Bruce, F.F. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary