Does God’s Mercy Cover All Your Sins?
“Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, . . . pardoning error and transgression and sin, but by no means will he give exemption from punishment.”—Ex. 34:6, 7.
1. How far do some persons claim that God’s mercy extends?
IS God’s mercy limitless? Has he been represented in the true light by many as a God of such compassion and all-embracing love that he extends open arms to everyone, no matter what manner of life a person may be living? For example, as stated by a religious professor in a journal published by the faculty of a theological seminary: “If the Church is true to her calling she must declare boldly that homosexuals are persons, made in the image of God, for whom Christ died, and that by God’s grace they who were no people are God’s people, for once they had not received mercy but now they have received mercy.” Does God’s mercy cover someone who persists in practicing such things? Another clergyman thinks so, as he wrote on the same subject in a church magazine published “with ecclesiastical approval”: “If God does not abhor, but rather loves, the homosexual with the nature he was created with we can do no less. And this means that we must accept the homosexual as he is.” Does God accept him as he is?
2. What practice of Jesus might cause some persons to misunderstand Jesus’ attitude toward sinners, yet how did Jesus answer his critics?
2 A careless reading of the Bible might cause some to agree with the views expressed by these religious leaders. They may have in mind such experiences of Jesus Christ as that recorded in Matthew, the ninth chapter. “While he was reclining at the table in the house, look! many tax collectors and sinners came and began reclining with Jesus and his disciples. But on seeing this the Pharisees began to say to his disciples: ‘Why is it that your teacher eats with tax collectors and sinners?’ Hearing them, he said: ‘Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do. Go, then, and learn what this means, “I want mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.’”—Matt. 9:10-13.
MERCY NOT A CONDONING OF SINS
3. What do Jesus’ own words in answer to his critics show as to his attitude toward sinners, and how did his deeds demonstrate this further?
3 Would this not, in casual reading, appear to indicate that Jesus approved of sinners in that he was willing to associate with them, and criticized the Pharisees for objecting to it? Note, however, Jesus’ introductory statement: “Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do.” Would this not rather suggest that Jesus’ reason for associating with them was to cure them and not simply to accept them in the ailing condition in which he found them as sinners? Jesus did exercise mercy, even as he admonished others in his Sermon on the Mount, saying, “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.” (Matt. 5:7) However, Jesus’ exercise of mercy toward sinners was not a condoning of their sins. Rather, it operated in the same compassionate manner as toward those who were physically ill. On one occasion a leper caught sight of Jesus and he fell upon his face and begged him, saying: “Lord, if you just want to, you can make me clean.” And so Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying: “I want to. Be made clean.” Immediately the man’s leprosy vanished from him. Sometimes he told the one who was ill simply to pick up his bed and walk. But in other instances he said instead: “Your sins are forgiven you.”—Luke 5:12, 13, 20.
4. (a) What was one of the most important aspects of Jesus’ ministry? (b) How did the apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, show the true relationship of sinners to God’s mercy?
4 Thus it is evident that Jesus was not accepting people in their sins as they were. Rather, one of the most important aspects of his ministry was to cure men of their spiritual illnesses, enabling them to be accepted by God because of their changed way of life. (1 Pet. 3:12; Mal. 3:18; Acts 10:34, 35) Jesus’ disciples had no distorted view of God’s mercy. For example, the apostle Paul wrote to approved Christians in Corinth about twenty-two years after Jesus had successfully finished his earthly ministry: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.”—1 Cor. 6:9-11.
5. With what words did John characterize sin and those who practice it, and what did he show the end of such ones would be?
5 John, an apostle of Jesus and one whom Jesus especially loved, characterized sin and those who practice it in these words and showed what the end of such ones would be: “Everyone who practices sin is also practicing lawlessness, and so sin is lawlessness. You know too that that one [Jesus] was made manifest to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Every one remaining in union with him does not practice sin; no one that practices sin has either seen him or come to know him. Little children, let no one mislead you; he who carries on righteousness is righteous, just as that one is righteous. He who carries on sin originates with the Devil, because the Devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was made manifest, namely, to break up the works of the Devil.”—1 John 3:4-8.
NO EXEMPTION FOR PRACTICERS OF SIN
6. What is Jehovah’s expressed position toward those who commit sin?
6 Those who would gain or who would continue to enjoy God’s approval should note well Paul’s words to the Galatian congregations: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh, but he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.” (Gal. 6:7, 8) God does forgive sins and looks with mercy and compassion upon the children of Adam who were born in sin. (Ps. 51:5) However, the true God revealed himself to Moses as “Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, . . . pardoning error and transgression and sin, but by no means will he give exemption from punishment.” (Ex. 34:6, 7) Even in the case of King David, with whom Jehovah had made a covenant for the kingdom, God made no exception. David was punished for his sins, but because he was repentant he was also mercifully forgiven. However, Jehovah’s forgiveness does not extend to those who deliberately violate the righteous principles upon which his own throne is established, nor to those who make sinning a way of life. (Compare Hebrews 1:8, 9.) On the contrary. His position is one of active hostility toward such ones and they can by no means escape the judgment he has reserved for them.
7. What proper view should be taken of Jehovah’s mercy, yet how do some view it?
7 This should not lead us to conclude that Jehovah is not a God of patience and long-suffering. According to his own testimony, in dealing with the nation of Israel in times past, he says: “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living.” (Ezek. 33:11) And, even though some of the wicked take unwise advantage of his patience, even scoff at the warning that one day his long-suffering will come to an end, he continues to put up with it in order that those who are of honest heart may turn to him and be saved.—2 Pet. 3:3, 4, 9, 15; Rom. 2:4.
8. How does Jehovah’s long-suffering benefit all mankind?
8 All mankind, even the wicked, benefit from God’s mercy. He does not withhold from them the things necessary for life. Jesus cited this quality of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness as an example to us, reminding us that our heavenly Father “makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45) And when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s law by eating of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and bad in the Garden of Eden, mercy toward their unborn offspring prompted Jehovah to allow them to live until children had been born.
9. How have countless millions of persons used the period of Jehovah’s long-suffering, and how will it turn out for them in the end?
9 Many have accepted the continuing undeserved kindness and long-suffering of Jehovah and have not missed its purpose, but, on the other hand, countless millions since Adam’s day have used this intervening time period, the period of Jehovah’s forbearance, as an opportunity to live in opposition to God and to practice all manner of unrighteous acts contrary to God’s stated will for his creatures. (2 Cor. 6:1; Rom. 1:28-32) But God is no more bound to put up with them indefinitely than he was obligated to Adam and Eve, who went down into everlasting death in due time, just as Jehovah had decreed for them. (Gen. 3:19; 5:5) The time period of Jehovah’s forbearance is nearing an end. When it concludes, Jehovah’s angelic hosts will enter into their assigned work of execution, and Jehovah’s mercy will not cover those who are found still engaged in their lawless acts, who have not turned around and received the mark of true disciples of Jesus Christ. (Ezek. 9:5, 6) When that time arrives, will God’s mercy cover all your sins?
CONTINUED VIGILANCE REQUIRED
10. (a) How should those who are dedicated and baptized view the continued mercy of God in their behalf? (b) What comfort can they take in the words of John at 1 John 2:1-6?
10 If you have not yet come to know and to accept as a way of life the righteous decrees of Jehovah, you have no time to lose. You must act quickly if you are to stand before Jehovah’s executional forces with the mark of true Christian identification. There are many, though, who read these pages who have already recognized their sinful condition before God and who have repented of this bad way and turned around, accepting God’s provision for reconciliation, God’s indescribable gift to mankind, the sacrifice of his dear Son. Does this, then, guarantee for them the continued favor of God, his unchanging mercy exercised in their behalf? Those who have dedicated themselves to God and symbolized this act by water baptism know that continued vigilance is required. (1 Cor. 10:12) Knowing they are imperfect, they are aware of the conflict within themselves, so that with the flesh they are slaves to sin’s law though with the mind they are slaves to God’s law. (Rom. 7:25) They know there is comparative gravity of wrongdoing and that sins can take a variety of forms—sins against mankind, sins against God and Christ, sins against one’s own body, sins in sharing in the sins of others, and many other such offenses. However, they take comfort in these words of John: “If anyone does commit a sin, we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one. And he is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, yet not for ours only but also for the whole world’s. And by this we have the knowledge that we have come to know him, namely, if we continue observing his commandments. He that says: ‘I have come to know him,’ and yet is not observing his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. But whoever does observe his word, truthfully in this person the love of God has been made perfect. By this we have the knowledge that we are in union with him. He that says he remains in union with him is under obligation himself also to go on walking just as that one walked.”—1 John 2:1-6.
11. How can we show from Jesus’ words that the abuse of even everyday activities can cause us to lose out on the way to life?
11 Those on the way to life rely in confidence on God’s mercy expressed through Jesus Christ and will endeavor to walk in the way of that One. But even though they avoid the gross sins that would obviously take them out from under God’s mercy, they know that there are many acts of commission or omission that can seriously endanger their standing with God. They know, for example, that Jesus did not attribute bad things to his disciples, yet he cautioned them against abuse of certain everyday activities that could cause them to lose out on the way to life. Jesus said: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day [of God’s meting out judgment] be instantly upon you as a snare.” (Luke 21:34, 35) Those who would follow Jesus’ steps closely realize therefore that no matter can safely be overlooked or viewed as of too little consequence to occupy their earnest and diligent attention.
12. Of what serious concern is it to us how forgiving we are of others? Give Scriptural counsel.
12 With this stirring admonition of Jesus before us, then, can we afford to ignore or minimize the words that Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”? Do you sincerely and with discernment make this request to God? These are not words to be taken lightly. Jesus added: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:12, 14, 15) Jesus went on to admonish: “Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; and with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you. Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to extract the straw from your eye’; when, look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First extract the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to extract the straw from your brother’s eye.”—Matt. 7:1-5.
THE POSITIVE QUALITY OF MERCY
13. What different meanings does the word “mercy” have as used in the Scriptures?
13 The practice of mercy, as the word is used in English, quite often conveys the idea of refraining, exercising restraint, such as in the administering of punishment, this restraint being motivated by compassion or sympathy. And it is used in this way in the Bible. God’s exercise of mercy is always in harmony with his other qualities and righteous standards, including his justice and trueness. (Ps. 40:11; Hos. 2:19) And since all men are by inheritance sinful and receiving sin’s payment of death, it is clear that the pardoning of error, or the lightening of judgment or punishment, is frequently involved in God’s exercise of mercy. However, the Hebrew and Greek words are not limited to forgiveness or restraint in applying a judicial penalty. Most frequently, mercy refers, not to a negative action, a holding back (as of punishment), but to a positive action, to an expression of kind consideration or pity that brings relief to those who are disadvantaged and in need of mercy. As might be expected, therefore, the Scriptures show that the mercifulness of Jehovah God is not a quality that comes into play only when persons are, in effect, “on trial” before him on account of having committed some particular wrongdoing. Rather, it is a characteristic quality of God’s personality, his normal way of reacting toward those in need, a facet of his love.—2 Cor. 1:3; 1 John 4:8.
14. How do Jesus’ acts of mercy highlight the meaning of the term?
14 So it is with Jesus as well. He did not limit his acts of mercy to those who opposed or offended him. The blind, the demon-possessed, the leprous, and those whose children were afflicted were among those who evoked the expression of his mercy and pity. (Matt. 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; Mark 5:18, 19; Luke 17:12, 13) In response to the plea, “Have mercy on us,” Jesus performed miracles relieving such ones. He did so, not in a routine, indifferent way, but because he was “moved with pity.”—Matt. 20:33, 34.
15. How does John compare God’s love to ours?
15 Does this not make more meaningful the words of Jesus’ half brother James, who warned: “For the one that does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy”? (Jas. 2:13) God’s mercy to us is of such great magnitude that we are compelled to exercise mercy toward our fellows, comparatively small though our manifestation of it may be. John said: “Beloved ones, let us continue loving one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born from God and gains the knowledge of God. He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love. By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins. Beloved ones, if this is how God loved us, then we are ourselves under obligation to love one another.”—1 John 4:7-11.
HOW FAR GOD’S MERCY EXTENDS
16. How does God’s mercy to us compare with mercy that we might exercise, and how did Jesus illustrate this at Matthew 18:23-35?
16 This may seem difficult at times and the offenses or seeming shortcomings of our Christian brothers may be such that we are inclined to ignore this requirement of showing love and extending mercy, rationalizing within ourselves that surely Jesus did not mean we should overlook “extreme” faults in others. But Paul magnifies God’s love above any that we could manifest when he said: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) How much greater are the sins that God has forgiven us than any that we might be called upon to forgive in our Christian brothers! And our need for God’s mercy in providing a way of redemption cannot be evaluated alongside the needs of our brothers that we are able to supply. Is it any wonder that God’s mercy cannot be made to extend to those who are lacking in mercy?—Col. 3:13; compare Matthew 18:23-35.
17. Though dedicated, how might we still come into judgment, yet what reassurance does James give?
17 Of most serious concern to us, then, should be the question: Does God’s mercy cover all my sins? If I have dedicated myself to Jehovah God and symbolized it by water baptism, making a request to God for a good conscience, could I still come under the judgment of God for failing to exercise mercy, love toward others? (1 Cor. 13:1-3) James warned, as already quoted: “For the one that does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy.” However, James followed this admonition with the comforting reassurance: “Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” (Jas. 2:13) How? And in what way that could bring us into judgment might we fail in exercising mercy even now, before the Day of Judgment?
18. What example of mercy might be considered, what pattern of mercy does it follow and it what respects?
18 One outstanding example of mercy, exercised to the full extent of the significance of the term, is that displayed by Joseph, the favored son of Jacob. But Joseph, in the mercy that he manifested, was following the pattern that Jehovah God himself was demonstrating at the same time. Whether Joseph realized at the beginning the full extent of God’s mercy exercised toward him and his father’s household, the Bible account does not say. But Joseph was relying entirely on Jehovah’s deliverance and never wavered in his determination to follow Jehovah’s direction and to adhere strictly to Jehovah’s righteous requirements that he had learned from his father Jacob. And when Joseph was in the greatest need, Jehovah’s mercy expressed in his behalf always succored him and, in due time, it brought him into the second-most prominent position in the world of his day, a position of such power that he could, if he so desired, avenge himself with impunity on all who had mistreated him. Or, he could use his position to become a great blessing to them. How Joseph exercised mercy, not only toward those guilty of wrongdoing, but also in tender compassion and empathy toward those in need, and how this true-life story can show us the way “mercy exults triumphantly over judgment, we leave to the succeeding article to demonstrate. A careful reading of Genesis, chapters 37 through 47, before considering these pages, will prove most interesting and instructive.
[Picture on page 494]
Mercifully, Jesus healed both the physically ill and the spiritually sick, though not condoning sin