Have a Right View of God’s Mercy
THE doctor was kind and very concerned. According to his best judgment, his patient desperately needed an operation in order to save her life. When she hesitated and raised the matter of blood transfusions, he was surprised. When she explained that for religious reasons she could not consent to an operation that involved a blood transfusion, he was thunderstruck. He racked his brains for a way to help her. Finally, he thought he had found one. He said: “You know, if you don’t accept a blood transfusion, you’ll die. You don’t want that, do you?”
“Of course not,” said his patient.
“But, seemingly, if you accept one, you will go against your religious beliefs, which are also important to you. Well, here is my suggestion. Why not accept a blood transfusion and thus save your life. Then confess to God that you have sinned, and repent. In that way, you’ll be restored in your religion also.”
The well-meaning doctor thought he had found the perfect answer. He was aware that his patient believed in a merciful God. Surely, this was a proper occasion to take advantage of God’s mercy! But was his suggestion as reasonable as it sounded?
Do We Ever Reason Like This?
Sometimes we may find ourselves reasoning the way the doctor did. Perhaps we are frightened by an unexpected outburst of opposition at school or at work. Or we may find ourselves in an embarrassing situation where we are under pressure to do something that offends our conscience. Taken by surprise, we may be inclined to take the easy way out and do what we know is wrong, intending to ask for forgiveness later.
Or individuals may be tempted by their own wrong inclinations. For example, a young man may find himself in a situation where he is strongly tempted to commit immorality. Rather than fight the wrong desire, he may give in, intending to put matters right with God later on. Some have even gone so far as to commit a serious sin despite knowing that they would probably be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. They have apparently reasoned, ‘I’ll let a little time go by. Then I will repent and be reinstated.’
All these situations have two things in common. First, individuals give in rather than struggle to do what is right. Second, they feel that after having done wrong, God will automatically forgive if they just ask.
What Is the Right View?
Does this show a proper appreciation for God’s mercy? Well, think about that mercy for a moment. Jesus said: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The apostle John explained how that mercy operates when he said: “I am writing you these things that you may not commit a sin. And yet, if anyone does commit a sin, we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one.” (1 John 2:1) Hence, if because of imperfection we fall into sin, we can come to God in prayer and beg for forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Does this mean, though, that it does not matter whether we sin or not, as long as we ask for forgiveness afterward? Hardly. Remember the first words of that quotation: “I am writing you these things that you may not commit a sin.” John’s further words in that verse show Jehovah’s loving arrangement for dealing with our imperfection. Nevertheless, we have to try as hard as we can to avoid sinning. Otherwise we show a lamentable disrespect for God’s love, rather like the ones referred to by Jude who used the undeserved kindness of God as an excuse for loose conduct.—Jude 4.
Viewing God’s mercy as a kind of safety net that will always catch us no matter what we do trivializes God’s mercy and makes it seem that sin is not all that bad. This is far from the truth. The apostle Paul told Titus: “The undeserved kindness of God which brings salvation to all sorts of men has been manifested, instructing us to repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and to live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things.”—Titus 2:11, 12.
Paul showed his appreciation for God’s mercy in the way he struggled against his own imperfection. He said: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) Paul did not just casually take it for granted that he was bound to sin from time to time. Should we?
On one occasion, Jesus showed how he viewed the idea of compromising on what is right and taking an easier course in order to avoid suffering. When he started to tell his disciples of his coming sacrificial death, Peter tried to dissuade him, saying: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this destiny at all.” Jesus’ reaction? “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.”—Matthew 16:22, 23.
Jesus’ strong reproof of Peter showed dramatically that Jesus refused to take an easy course that involved going against God’s will. The record shows that he unwaveringly followed the right path, undergoing constant harassment at Satan’s hands. At the end he was mocked, severely beaten, and he suffered an agonizing death. Nevertheless, he did not compromise, and because of this he was able to offer his life as a ransom for us. Surely he did not endure all of this so that we can be ‘kind to ourselves’ when difficulties or temptations arise!
Of Jesus it is said: “You loved righteousness, and you hated lawlessness.” (Hebrews 1:9) Taking the easy way out usually involves lawlessness. Hence, if we truly hate this—as Jesus did—we will always refuse to compromise. In the book of Proverbs, Jehovah says: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Proverbs 27:11) Jesus’ balanced but uncompromising righteousness brought great rejoicing to Jehovah’s heart. We can give Jehovah similar pleasure if we follow Jesus’ course of integrity.—1 Peter 2:23.
Trained by Endurance
The apostle Peter wrote: “In this fact you are greatly rejoicing, though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being proved by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6, 7) Because we are imperfect and living in the midst of Satan’s world, we will constantly be faced with tests and temptations. As Peter shows, these can serve a good purpose. They test our faith, show whether it is weak or strong.
They also serve to train us. Jesus “learned obedience from the things he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) We too can learn obedience, as well as reliance on Jehovah, if we endure under test. And this learning process will continue until complete, as Peter said: “God . . . will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong.”—1 Peter 5:10.
If, though, we compromise under test, we show ourselves to be cowardly or weak, lacking a strong love of Jehovah and of righteousness or lacking in self-control. Any such weakness gravely endangers our relationship with God. Indeed, Paul’s warning may come true in our case: “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left.” (Hebrews 10:26) How much better not to sin in the first place than to give in to weakness and run the risk of losing all prospect of life!
In the days of the prophet Daniel, three Hebrews were threatened with a fiery death if they would not worship an idol. Their reply? “If it is to be, our God whom we are serving is able to rescue us. Out of the burning fiery furnace and out of your hand, O king, he will rescue us. But if not, let it become known to you, O king, that your gods are not the ones we are serving, and the image of gold that you have set up we will not worship.”—Daniel 3:17, 18.
They took that stand because they wanted to do what was right. If it led to their death, so be it. Their confidence was in the resurrection. If, however, God delivered them, so much the better. But their firm stand was unconditional. So it should always be with God’s servants.
In our day some who have refused to compromise have been imprisoned, tortured, even killed. Others have made material sacrifices, preferring to stay poor rather than to get rich at the expense of sacrificing right principles. What happened with the Christian woman mentioned at the beginning of this article? She appreciated the kindly if misguided motive of the doctor, but she did not compromise her faith. Instead, her respect for Jehovah’s law led her to refuse the operation. Happily, she recovered anyway and continued actively serving Jehovah. However, when she took her stand, she did not know what the outcome would be, but she was prepared to leave the whole matter in Jehovah’s hands.
What helped her to remain so firm under pressure? She did not try to stand on her own, and neither should any servant of God. Remember, “God is for us a refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses.” (Psalm 46:1) How much better to turn to God for help while under trial than to sin and then have to turn to him for mercy!
Yes, let us never treat lightly God’s great mercy. Rather, let us develop a genuine desire to do what is right, even in the face of difficulties. This will deepen our relationship with Jehovah, give us the training that we need for everlasting life, and demonstrate a proper respect for God’s mercy. Such wise conduct will bring joy to the heart of our heavenly Father.
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Absolute confidence in the resurrection helped the three Hebrews keep integrity