What We Deserve and What We Need

     A lesson most of us have learned as a child is that there is often a big difference between what we deserve and what we need. I’ve told this story before, but as long as I live I will never forget my father telling me to leave the paint on the garage shelf alone. Of course, I didn’t. I opened all the cans to have a look. And then I put the tops back on. But I didn’t know at that stage of my development that one should pound the tops down tightly. He came home and announced that he was going to check something in the garage and with a deep sense of foreboding I followed along.

You know what happened next. He reached up to read the top of a can, tipped it so he could see it and paint fell all over him. I stood motionless at the garage entrance knowing at that moment I did not want the justice I deserved. I don’t really remember what happened next, but I am still here, so I am certain I didn’t get all that I deserved.

     Things like that happen as we grow up. How many of us did not bang up the first car we drove, at least a little? Most of us had experiences like this and are thankful that our parents leaned over to the side of mercy instead of justice. So it is that life’s experiences have taught us that mercy is something we all need very much.

     The English word “mercy” in the New Testament translates a Greek word that means kindness toward someone in need, even someone who is miserable and afflicted. The specific definition of the English word is derived from the idea of showing forbearance toward a powerless person who has committed an offense. This is an instance of the Greek and English words conveying the same meaning in really fine fashion.

     We know that without God’s mercy we are indeed in a very bad place. Listen to Paul: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, has made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NKJV). We don’t like to feel that we are hopeless and helpless, but sin makes us that way. The reward of sin is spiritual death (Romans 6:23). That is what all accountable people deserve. We are powerless to do anything that would undo the sins we have done. We might and should try to do better but even if we could never sin again (which is impossible, 1 John 1:5-10) we would still have guilt from the sins of the past. Sin demands justice. We are spiritually in quite a mess.

     But then there is the mercy of God. His mercy flows out of His love and is manifested in His grace toward us. Without this magnificent blessing we would have no hope. Thank God for His mercy.

     There is one element of God’s mercy that must not be overlooked. Mercy is defined as kindness expressed toward a person who has sinned and thus is in need of mercy. In order to receive mercy we must first recognize our need for it. If we fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t need God’s help then He will certainly not give it to us! The danger we face is in thinking that we are doing fine the way we are. It is too easy to diminish the sinfulness of sin and excuse our misdeeds and bad attitudes.

     Self-examination is a requirement for faithful Christians (2 Corinthians 13:5). A good look inward will remind us of our acute need for mercy. We will see that we deserve justice but we must have mercy. Then we will do as the Bible says in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (NKJV).