Ruth, my wife, and I have a cat named Adaline. On the surface, one might wonder why she has captured our hearts. I don’t fully understand why I’m so attached to her, although she is cute.
She most often demands her own way and audibly grumbles when that doesn’t happen. Adaline exhibits “management qualities” when she senses a change in our routine. In spite of all that, she has become a beloved member of our family since the day we chose to adopt her and brought her into our home.
Does that not illustrate, albeit to a small degree, God’s mercy toward us? I’ve gained a better understanding of His steadfast love toward us since the day we rescued Adaline.
Romans 5:6-8 gives us a window into His great love for us:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The understanding of God’s compassion in forgiving all our sins makes an enormous difference in our walk with God as well as in what we believe about biblical prophecy. A key false teaching in regard to future things developed in the early church history because of theologians not fully grasping the extent of the Lord’s mercy toward sinners.
Lest you think I’m a bit crazy for saying that, let me explain.
Understanding God’s Mercy
My conviction regarding the necessity of comprehending God’s mercy also grew through my long-term study of several minor characters in the Bible, many of whom ruined their lives because they failed to grasp its significance. My book, Cancel This! What Today’s Church Can Learn From the Bad Guys of the Bible, details the failures of several “bad guys” and explains how a deeper understanding of God’s merciful forgiveness of all our sins enables us to avoid their errant paths and reckless decisions.
In contrast to Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), several of them viewed the sins of others as far greater than their own disobedience to a holy God. As a result, they refused to let go of their anger, pride, and bitterness toward those that wronged them. They felt justified in harboring bitterness and in exacting their own revenge.
The words of 2 Corinthians 5:21 sum up the wonders of God’s great mercy toward us in not only canceling all our sins but applying the “righteousness of God” to us:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
This lies at the heart of our “justification by faith,” which Paul explains in Romans 5-8. When we call upon the Lord in saving faith, He declares us righteous in His sight. The word Paul used for “justify” came from the law courts of his day. It signified a judge declaring the accused to be “not guilty.’
That’s the depth of God’s mercy to us. At the moment of our salvation, God declares us to be “not guilty” of all our many sins, past, present, and future. And the good news is that it’s impossible for anyone to overturn that verdict! That’s the glorious message of Romans 8:31-39.
If you think it might be difficult, or even impossible, to overturn an earthly judge’s “not guilty” verdict, try attempting to do that with an all-knowing and sovereign God who has already seen all the evidence one could possibly bring to His attention.
What Does Mercy Have to Do with Biblical Prophecy?
“What does mercy have to do with biblical prophecy?” you ask.
During the early centuries of church history, an error regarding Bible prophecy sprang up because of a failure to understand God’s mercy. Just like many of the guys in my book Cancel This!, the proponents of this false teaching believed that the sins of others were far greater than their own transgressions.
As a result, they placed the blame on the Jews of the first century AD for Jesus’ crucifixion, and as a result, they refused to believe that God could possibly bless them with a future kingdom. Yes, other factors such as Platonism were also involved, but anti-Semitic passions fueled this false belief from the fifth century through the entire time of the Reformation.
These theologians overlooked three critical considerations in their errant rush to assume that God had rejected Israel as a nation and replaced it with the church.
First, Jesus willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice for our sins. In Mark 10:44, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As God, He had the power to avoid arrest and death. He could have called upon thousands of angels to rescue Him, but He didn’t. Instead, He freely gave up His life as an atonement for our sins.
Second, it was the sins of all the redeemed of all the ages that put Jesus on the cross. These early theologians erred in their failure to understand the full scope of God’s mercy in forgiving their own sins via the cross. They overlooked the truth that Jesus gave up His life so that they themselves might call upon Him in faith and receive forgiveness of sins.
Third, Jesus’ arrest, trial, death on the cross, and resurrection fulfilled biblical prophecy. The God who promised a gloriously restored kingdom for Israel also revealed the death and suffering of the Messiah on the pages of the Old Testament.
You see, if God can change His mind regarding His unconditional covenants He made to Israel based on behavior He knew all about at the time He made the promises of a still future kingdom for Israel, then we are all in a whole lot of trouble.
What does it say about the Lord if He’s capable of reneging on promises based on behavior He knew all about when He made those promises?
It’s All About God’s Mercy
Why did the apostle Paul write Romans 9-11 after affirming the unchangeable nature of our justification in Romans 8:31-39?
It was to show that with both our election as New Testament saints and God’s unconditional calling of Israel as a nation, it’s all about His unchanging mercy.
In Romans 9:14, the apostle asserts God’s sovereignty in the matter of His choices, “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Just as God decided to choose Abraham and subsequently bless Jacob and all His descendants, so He justifies the elect as New Testament saints (see Romans 8:30). It’s all about His sovereign mercy for both Israel and us.
Paul declares in Romans 11:29 that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” This signifies that just as His calling and justifying of us can never be undone, the same is true of His determination to bless Israel in the future. Romans 11:28-32 confirms what the apostle said in earlier in the chapter, “God has not rejected his people [Israel].”
“As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
Why are we eternally secure as New Testament saints? It’s solely because of God’s sovereign mercy toward us. The One who justifies us will never let go of us. No one can overturn God’s verdict of “not guilty” regarding us. Don’t let anyone tell you that one can lose their salvation or walk away from their faith; such a statement displays a serious misunderstanding of what it means to be “justified by faith.”
Why will God keep His promises to restore a glorious kingdom for Israel? Again, it’s solely because of His unfailing mercy to the people that He chose long ago. Just as for us, His compassion never fails! He keeps all His promises to His beloved.
A biblical understanding of God’s mercy negates all forms of teachings that deny the restoration of a glorious future kingdom for Israel and claim that the church has replaced Israel as the Lord’s kingdom. The church is the body of Christ; it’s not God’s physical kingdom.
Those who properly comprehend God’s mercy have no problem believing what the Bible says about the abundant blessings ahead for the nation of Israel. They understand the connection between His holiness and the resulting multitude of future blessings for Israel, as explained in Ezekiel 36:22-38. There will be a remnant of Jewish people who turn to Jesus at the end of the Tribulation and inherit the glorious kingdom promised to them throughout the pages of the Old Testament.
A.W. Tozer, in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, wrote this about the necessity of understanding the person of God as a believer:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us….
We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech.[i]
It’s solely because of God’s sovereign mercy that we have hope in Jesus’ appearing to take us home to glory. Just as with His promises to the nation of Israel, the Lord can’t renege on His gift of eternal life to us and our blessed hope in Jesus’ appearing. This is the best news we could ever hear!
My newest book is Cancel This! What Today’s Church Can Learn from the Bad Guys of the Bible. In it, I explore what we can learn from less than stellar biblical characters that help us live in today’s cancel culture.
I provide a detailed defense of the Pretribulation viewpoint in: The Triumph of the Redeemed-An eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times.
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[i] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of The Holy (New York: Harpers and Row, Publishers, 1961), p. 9. Note: I’m not sure Tozer would agree with my Premillennialism, but he was spot-on regarding the impact of how we view God.