Mercy and Sin

We must not confuse showing mercy and condoning sin.  It is easy to unintentionally do this when we show mercy/compassion to a sinner.  We must impact the sinner with compassion, while the sinner is guilty of wrong.  Keeping the two separate – mercy and sin – can sometimes be a challenge.

God clearly loves the sinner and wants us to do the same as we imitate Him.

Be like God:

Ephesians 4 ESV 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 5:1 NKJV 1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.

1 Peter 1:15-16 NKJV 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

Who loves sinners and offers to save (forgive) them:

Matthew 9:13 NKJV 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.

Luke 19:10 NKJV 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

1 John 3:5 NKJV 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.

In some cases we keep our distance from condoning sin, perhaps because we may feel little mercy toward the sinner.  Two examples:

(1)  The drunk driver who murders an innocent person

(2)  The shooter or suicide bomber who murders a group of innocent people

In other cases, we may be tempted to go beyond showing mercy and compassion (which God does) to implying that the sin is not wrong (which God never does).  This is more likely to happen when socially and culturally “acceptable” sins are committed.  Two examples:

(1)  Adultery, where two consenting adults have sex outside of marriage

(2)  Homosexuality, where two consenting adults of the same sex have a sexual relationship with or without “marriage”

Drunkenness, murder, adultery, and homosexuality are all condemned in the New Testament, but we may have different attitudes toward the individual sins because of current cultural sensitivities which may often be promoted through the media, especially television.

Now, in the two sets of cases I gave above: each set has a problem.  In the first set of two cases, probably no mercy/compassion is going to be shown to the sinner.  That is not being like God, who is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34.6).

In the second set of cases, sympathy for (and perhaps identification with) the sinner may cause an overflow of mercy, perhaps even becoming emotional – while the reality of the self-inflicted wound of sin becomes muted (IMHO due to cultural influences).

Here is an example from the life of Jesus.  In John 14 we have the story of Jesus healing a man who had been crippled for 38 years.  Jesus told him:

John 5:14 NKJV 14 …See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.

Jesus clearly showed compassion to the man by healing him, but Jesus warned him about the continued practice of his sin.

Why do we sometimes have a tendency to say that sin is not that bad?  Well, I don’t know, but here are a few ideas.  (1) We have allowed the influence of Babylon to get into the church.  “Babylon” is code for the sinful things of the world: worldliness in the church.  (2) We become emotional and allow our emotions to erode our reason and cloud our judgment.  Someone says, “poor me”, and we agree with them.  (3) We may be tempted with the same sin ourselves and so we make a preemptive attempt to save face in case we succumb to temptation and are discovered.  “This” sin is not really that bad.  An example would be a straight person saying adultery is not that bad because it is not unnatural.

The Christian life is in some ways easy:

Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

And in some ways hard:

Luke 14:26-27, 33 NKJV 26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. … 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

But it ALWAYS requires commitment to the way of Jesus:

Luke 9:23-26 NKJV 23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”

We have no choice but to live “in” our culture.  Yet, the Christian must in the ultimate sense live “above” it, because he or she is living the life of Christ.  Let’s hate sin – and love the sinner.  We were created in God’s image.  Let’s work to restore it by living in God’s image.

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2 Responses to “Mercy and Sin”

  1. Bobby Valentine Says:

    John,

    Thank you for reflecting on this matter. It is so neglected. We are, it seems, afraid of mercy. We do not want others to thing we are “soft” on sin.

    Yet we are called to be Masters of Mercy. It is a “weightier matter of the law” according to Jesus. We exercise this divine trait when we follow the example of our Father. It is not soft on sin … there can be NO mercy without the offense or shortcoming.

    I noted that all your scripture, save one, comes from the “NT.” Exodus 34.6 is the golden text of the Bible. This self revelation of the divine name occurs against the backdrop of such utter blackness. The brilliance of shines all the more because of the context in which God revealed himself.

    A brilliant commentary of sorts on the divine nature/name is the allegory of Ezekiel 16. A more profound passage is not to be found. It is extremely powerful, deeply moving, and utterly graphic. The helplessness, the faithLESSness and the sin of Israel is never more powerfully portrayed than here. At the same time the magnificence, the grandeur, the faithFULness of God’s mercy is now where more clearly shown than here.

    Our word “mercy” is used in v. 5 and rendered as “pity” in the NIV/NRSV. We begin to get some inkling of the word for God by its contrast to those who took no notice of the exposed and left to die infant. I know you know the text well so I need not say more other than the whole chapter is incredibly profound. We see Yahweh the God of Israel as the Master of Mercy … as members of the divine family we are called to reflect his glory. The glory of mercy.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  2. John Says:

    Thank you, Bobby.

    Another thing about Ezekiel 16 is that God had the power of life and death and the child plus anyone else was powerless to tell Him which option to choose. I saw a show one time where a military sniper was nicknamed “god.” I can see why. Yahweh had the power and right to squeeze the trigger or lower His rifle. He let Israel live for another day. That’s a gift. How did they/do we respond?

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