And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Lk 23:39-43)
Jesus, when faced with the thief on the cross at his side, chose to give mercy. This is always God’s preferred path. In fact, the Scripture in Micah 7:18 says that He “delights in mercy.” That’s pretty powerful. Something you delight in, gives you pleasure. It’s a thing you choose over all your other options.
We see another example of this in a story Jesus told. His disciple, Peter, asked how many times he should forgive someone, and in response, Jesus spoke about a man deep in debt. The king, who the man owed the debt to, at first, commanded judgment, saying the man’s wife and children should be sold. But when the man begged for mercy, it was granted and the debt completely forgiven.
However, here’s the important part we should note … The man then found someone who owed him money. Yet, instead of applying the same mercy he’d been given, he chose to offer judgment. He not only didn’t forgive the debt, he had the man cast in prison. (Mt 18:21-35)
Now, sin, as the Bible speaks of it, cannot be redefined. What was wrong then is still wrong today, no matter who says otherwise. And the sinner needs to acknowledge his sin in order to offer true repentance. However, we in the church have spent way too much time defining sin and not enough offering mercy. We’ve become like the man who owed the debt. We ask for forgiveness for ourselves, but don’t offer it to others.
Here’s the truth God spoke to my heart. He said: “I don’t tolerate sin. I forgive it.”
This revelation changed me. In it, I saw all the times I ever condemned someone else for their behavior, all the harsh, unkind words I’ve spoken, all the times I should have done like Jesus and preferred mercy.
I was the man in Psalm 1:1 who sat in the seat of the scornful, my gut reaction to speak out harsh words. But God, without redefining the sin, always has the opposite reaction. He sees a chance to forgive and jumps on it. God’s automatic reaction to sin, His first response, is always mercy.
But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. (Ps 86:15)
The fact is, judgment is easier to dispense. It’s almost more natural for the human mind. But it isn’t God’s way because God’s mercy always outweighs His judgment. It’s a size issue. Mercy is huge, far larger than we’ve imagined. The Bible says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 103:12) That’s GREAT mercy!
But, we’ve made judgment larger. Judgment is like that item in the back of your pantry, the one you avoid until there’s nothing else in the house to eat. God would much rather do anything else than dispense judgment. It’s His last resort. And He’s asked us to do the same. In fact:
Mercy triumphs over judgment. (Jas 2:13 GNB)
When we give mercy, we receive mercy. Similarly, the size of the judgment we dispense is the judgment we’ll receive. Even greater, the Bible says to stand in judgment instead of mercy is inexcusable. (Mt 5:7;Mt 7:2;Rm 2:1)
But, oh, how great is God’s forgiveness! That God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were full of our sins, chose mercy and grace, not condemning us for our faults, but blessing instead. It’s our job to do the same. We don’t excuse the sin, but we don’t condemn the sinner either. And God’s mercy in us becomes greater than anything else. (Eph 2:4-6;Rm 8:1)
Suzanne D. Williams
Suzanne Williams. Author
Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.