“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give Him your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him”
(Romans 12:1 JB Phillips, NT in Modern English)
“What’s the difference in lightning and a lightning bug?”
Mark Twain once asked that question to show that an “almost-right word” is not sufficient to capture what a writer really wants to say.
And, while we all make mistakes in the words we choose, the words God uses are never mistaken! Every “word from God” is intentional. They are accurate. Precise. Powerful and effective. God’s Word is alive!
That’s why, when it comes to the use and understanding of Bible words, there are incredible treasures to be found in the actual meaning of words, chosen by the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
Nineteen centuries before Mr. Twain made his “lightning bug” observation, it was illustrated powerfully in the writings of the Apostle Paul as his manuscript to the believers in Rome defined what it means to truly be a follower and worshiper of the Lord Jesus. Through the Epistle to the Romans, God gave all future followers of Jesus the recipe for living abundantly, freely, faithfully and wholeheartedly as servants of our risen King.
Within that “recipe” are several active ingredients. Grace and mercy are two of them, but too many times they are thought of as synonyms – or two sides of a coin. In fact, grace and mercy do overlap, for sure, but they are not the same. Grace and mercy are aimed at two distinct needs that all of us have.
The simplest definition of “grace” is also the best-known: Grace is “unmerited favor”, the free gift bestowed by God upon those who do not deserve it. It’s awesome, glorious and continually available to us! Grace is, in one word, the defining expression of God’s eternal love. He “so loved the world” that “He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) so that sinful human beings could be “saved by grace, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:10). It’s so powerful that in Romans 5:17b it is grace that enables each of us to “reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”! Grace reigns over our sin. Therefore, by grace, we can “reign” in this life!
So grace is aimed at the problem of sin as an internal force in our lives. And it is through grace alone that the war is won and victory becomes sure – for all eternity.
So naturally, we might wonder what else we could possibly need. What’s the role of “mercy” in our lives, when grace is all-sufficient for the total conquest of sin?
Mercy addresses a different need. It’s a word used throughout Scripture to describe God’s sovereign activity of bringing deliverance to His people when there are no other avenues of help! Mercy is quite simply God acting on our behalf in real time – just exactly when, where and how we need it! Mercy is, of course, similar to grace in that it is undeserved. But the accent on the use of “mercy” in Scripture is a dynamic process of God’s hand, guiding and delivering His people as a manifestation of His eternal covenant.
In our daily lives, we’re often unaware of how much we need God’s mercy, but He knows it! This is why the basis for our call to worship in Romans 12:1 is “in view of God’s mercies”. Not only is God’s mercy magnificent; it’s multiplied on our behalf. The plural of “mercy” is another hint at the simple (and obvious!) fact that each of us need many “mercies”.
Far beyond what we can comprehend, we’ve benefited from our heavenly Father intervening to prevent us from error, to deliver us from evil and to put fresh hope in our lives. Too often, we forget that in Christ Jesus, we’re being actively shepherded! He promises His active involvement in our lives, assuring us that He will never leave us or forsake us. It’s because of these “mercies” that you, as a child of God, can confidently declare: “The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me.” (Hebrews 13:6b)
So it is, that part of our “living sacrifice” of worship is to present our lives each day to Him with gratitude for the “mercies” He gives us, often when we’re not even aware of what a predicament we would be in without Him!
In the last year of the 19th century, the famous Russian novelist Nicolay Tolstoy, concluded a story called “Resurrection” that was a mirror of his own discovery of God’s mercies. In Tolstoy’s tale, a Russian prince struggled with the meaning of his existence and very reluctantly turned his attention to a New Testament that he had long neglected, to the detriment of his own soul. With deep reflection and a dawning awareness of all that he had missed, the power of the new birth through faith in Christ captivated the prince. It was a reality that he had heard of from the Christians in his empire but, for him, it seemed a foreign kingdom. As the pages of the Gospels lit up in his heart and mind, Tolstoy explains that “his soul was swept by an ecstasy such as he had not felt before. It was as though, after long pining and suffering, he had suddenly found peace and liberation. Like a sponge soaking up water, he drank in all the vital, important and joyous news which the book revealed to him. And everything he read seemed familiar to him, confirming and making real what he had long known but had never fully understood nor really believed. Now he understood and believed.”
Whether in the ecstasy of a quiet, lamp-lit room or in flashes of insight God gives us in the midst of a busy week, there are multiple mercies from God available to you today. Rest assured, that God’s mercy surpasses what you can ask or imagine. Count on it! Rejoice in knowing that His mercy endures forever! God's mercy is truly magnificent.