If there is only one song I can sing
When in his presence I see the great King
This will my song for eternity be
O what a wonder that Jesus loves me
Jesus Loves Even Me
Jesus Loves Even Me
Friends on the Beach
After two hours of flight, the jet lost power. Kept aloft by the power her massive engines, the mass of metal and plastic stuffed with hundreds of human bodies lost its will to fly. All those human beings experienced terror which they could not have imagined; the complete helplessness of being alone with gravity overtook their minds.
The pilots who somehow kept their wits, managed to bring the airplane to a sort of landing along the beach.
When the missile came to a halt, broken into pieces, scattered over half a mile, the dead stayed silent. The wounded moaned and cried in pain. The living untangled themselves and poured onto the beach to find the other living souls.
At first, they have a profound basis for fellowship, they talk of their experience in being saved from death. They work together to rescue others. Even though in most areas of their lives they remain perfect strangers, in this one new world they are connected in ways which transform how they understand one-another.
Those who watch a concert together or cheer for the same sports team have known something of this intimacy. But here, it is deeper: we have together comes to the gates of death and were not taken.
This creates intimacy which they would not have otherwise gained except for years of friendship.
Then overtime, the overwhelming sense of joy and terror which had thrown them together begins to fade. The differences which had kept them strangers before begin to resurface – only this time it is mixed the intimacy of having shared an escape from death.
By being both extremely close and strangely distant, the distinctions which are unimportant among strangers become matters of the gravest consequence. Things which would be overlooked among those who had never spoken become the basis for the sharpest quarrels.
Cliques develop; the divisions of live from before the airflight become the basis for new divisions among those who survived.
This is the Church—only it is far more vicious among the church, because we can justify our prejudice and our unkindness with the thought, I am serving God: you are working against God.
If only we kept in mind the unspeakable grace of our salvation, the depth of sin and despair, the greatness of God’s mercy, how different would be the life of the church. But when we forget how we came to be here; when we begin to take our salvation for granted; when we fail to see the end will be glory; then how easily we slide and how dangerous we can become.
The Mercies of God
If a look at human madness is grim, an eye upon the mercy of God is unmitigated joy. To consider ourselves without God is a matter of profound sorrow and hopelessness:
remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
But to be in Christ, to be reconciled to God, to know the mercy of God, that is a matter of joy:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
This hope in the glory of God is focus of our lives. To open a Christian hymnal is centuries of praise for mercy of God, And Can it Be, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, There is a Fountain. Anyone who claims to know Christ and is not constantly struck by the wonder: How could Jesus love me? What endless depths of love must the Father have to give his Son? How can the Spirit so patiently work upon my heart?
There is mercy in God, a mercy which lies beyond all compare, a mercy which produces in our heart, “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” 1 Pet. 1:8
So just as we cannot understand the commands of Romans 12 without a clear understanding of the persistence of indwelling sin, so also, we will never be able to fulfill the commands without a certain knowledge of the boundless mercy of God.
As we will learn, one of the chief reasons commands to not think of ourselves too highly, and to bless those who persecute us, seem unreasonable, even impossible is because we do not rightly esteem the mercy of God.
The mercy of God begins at the Fall of Adam.
The command was unambiguous and without appeal, “for on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Gen. 2:17 How Adam understood death, when it was not a thing he had experienced, we can only imagine. For us who have watched a parent or child or friend die, the finality and darkness of death is unquestioned. Once one has stood at the side of a grave, or closed another’s eyes with heartbreak, we know death. It is our inheritance which the executor will always convey.
But something happened when Adam sinned. There was certainly a death, because the relationship to God was severed. But the curtain of bodily death did not fall in an instant. Instead, God pronounced judgment, inflicted penalties, and drove the first pair from the Garden, but he did end Adam’s bodily life in that moment.
In fact, in the midst of that judgment, God showed his love toward all his creation. Notice the scene: There is the Serpent who we will come to know as the Arch Rebel against God. There is Adam and Eve fresh from their rebellion. God without question could have ended the existence of all three of them, but he does not:
God’s willingness to preserve the fallen spiritual creatures in spite of their rebellion is matched by his desire to keep the human race in being. This is a mystery that can only be explained only by his deep love for his creatures. Looked at in a purely rational light, it would not have been surprising if God had decided to wipe us out and start again.
(Gerald Lewis Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 473)
God then begins to pour grace and mercy onto his creation. He makes a promise in the midst of his first judgment:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15. Someone will come and bruise the head of the serpent. God is thereafter lavish in mercy. He calls the idolator Abram to a knowledge of him and showers promises upon Abram. Gen. 12:1-3. He redeems Israel from Egypt because he wants to. He choses David because he wants to.
When Israel rebels with the Golden Calf, God relents at the intercession of Moses. Moses then in awe of this God seeks to the glory of God. God grants his wish – as much as Moses can bear—and passes by Moses proclaiming his name:
5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.
Exodus 34:5–8. The accent is upon the mercy, the forgiveness of God. As James will write, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13
When Israel finally becomes so stubborn in her rebellion that the northern tribes are gone to Assyria and then Judah taken to judgment in Babylon, when it seems that the mercy of God has failed, he promises a new and better covenant:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
It is that New Covenant which Paul proclaims in Romans. We can only think about the barest outlines. First, grants blessing received by faith, not earned by work:
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.
Romans 4:4–9. Paul will insist elsewhere upon the utter graciousness of this gift:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:4–9. Faith is the means by which one grants love and friendship to another. If someone promises you friendship, you can only receive it by faith and trust. If a young man bursting with love were to tell his beloved of his inmost heart and if she were to disbelieve him, no love would come to her.
Among friends, among those who love, this rarest of gifts is exchanged by faith. One’s wrath does not need to be believed, by love must be received.
No God faces an insolvable problem when he seeks to bestow mercy upon those have sinned against him. If God were merely to forgive, God would be unjust. If God does not forgive, God is unmerciful.
But God is both just and justifier, both perfect judge and full of mercy. He does this by an exchange whereby God, God the Son, obeys on our behalf and pays the penalty on our behalf:
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:6–11. And the proclamation of this exchange Paul saw as the key to his ministry:
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:16–21.
There is astounding mercy: We utterly wretched, dead in our trespasses and sin, rebels, zombies a life in death, have found mercy and made righteous by life and death of Christ: a life and death credited to us; while our sin and misery are credited to him.
Would you die for a friend? Would die for an enemy? Would you die to save someone who hated you? Would you give you son to do for your enemies so that your enemies would reconciled to you. Do you even begin to understand what that means?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16. Once, when my infant son lay near death, I thought how I would willingly give my own life to save his. I thought further how I could give anyone else to save him. And as I had this thought it struck me, that the Father gave his Son to save me—his enemy. Do nothing to soften the depth of that gift. You cannot say, He is God and I am human. The Father loves the Son more than we love anything. The Son is worthy of more than any son of ours. The degradation to the Son to submit himself to the law, to be saddled with sin, to be struck in death, are things we cannot understand.
Glory Makes Reconciliation
The mercy of God is a movement from election to glory:
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Romans 8:29–30. If you have been redeemed, you will be glorified. If you are in Christ, nothing in creation can keep you from being forever with Christ:
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38–39. If you have received mercy from God in Jesus Christ, that mercy cannot be lost. If you are in Christ, you will without question receive “praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Pet. 1:7.
One thing which will make the commands of Romans 12 seemingly impossible is because not one human being upon this planet can begin to fathom the depth of the Father’s love as shown in his Son. We lack the capacity to contemplate so things as they deserve.
And yet God calls us to think of his love and mercy. He welcomes our poor musing.
We contemporary Christians are in such a hurry to do something for God that we never take the time to think about this wonder: not to do something, but just to gaze upon this mystery and be humbled.
And then we have the greater mysteries: Why did God choose me? It is not because we have earned a thing. We do not value this mercy. Why did God not save the one next to you? We think ourselves so clever in complaining that God does not save all. That is nothing. Why did God save any. But God has chosen “to the praise of his glorious grace.” Eph. 1:6. This is a love which nothing can end, no power can sever. Rom. 8:38-39.
Until you have settled in your mind, the depth of your sin—even now persisting—and the unfathomable mercy of God, continuing uphold you, you will either reject or twist the commands which Paul gives for the life of the church.
So when you look to this commands and you see your flesh pinched by “I don’t want to do that,” or “I don’t think I can.” Think to yourself: Ah, there is my indwelling sin; there is that sin which continues to dog me like a cough which one cannot shake, an infection of the soul which will never ease. When you feel yourself rebel at these instructions, think, God loves me and has shown such mercy to me and all that he asks is that I love those for whom Christ died and that I show mercy on those who continue to rebel against the will of God. You must think, I will love not because this human deserves such love but because Christ deserves such honor. The mercy I have received is the mercy I will show, even to my enemies.
1. Stop and take the time to merely think about the mercy of God. Contemplate the love of the Father in the death of Christ. When you look upon the cross, think to yourself, this is how deeply the Father loves me.
2. How many times has God shown mercy on your sin, today?
3. How often have you refused to show mercy to others? Think of one occasion.
4. Memorize the words of this hymn, And Can it Be:
- And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
- ’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
- He left His Father’s throne above—
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!
- Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
- No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.