April 2024

A right response to mercy – Part 2

God’s mercy is intended to produce a righteous response in its recipients, as mercy expresses God’s compassion for us. Mercy should never be experienced without allowing a right flow-on effect, which is Paul’s point in Romans 12:1. In response to God’s mercy we worship Him through surrendering our lives, including our minds and bodies, to holy living. But that is not to be the end of God’s mercy story for us.

Mercy, by nature, has a ripple effect in the lives of those who are touched by it. Yes, its impact is first experienced by its immediate recipient, but the effects become visually and audibly undeniable as its influence radiates outward. The apostle Paul shows this outward direction of mercy in Romans 12:2, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Mercy triggers, then fuels, the ongoing transformation of the believer’s mind, enabling nonconformity to weak and sinful worldly thinking and behaviour.

It’s impossible for such a transformation to go unnoticed, as renewed thinking produces renewed behaviour. As values and priorities change under the government of God, patterns of thought and behaviour will also change, some immediately and others over time. Mercy impacted believers increasingly respond to life and people in a different way, because the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

God’s mercy is seen at its brightest through Jesus’ accomplishments on the cross and His resurrection. Faith in Jesus’ substitutional death opens the floodgates of forgiveness, of changed status from sinner to innocent child of God, and of eternal life with promised heavenly security (Romans 3). These spiritual realities form the foundation on which the Christian stands.

Life’s circumstances change, personal struggles often persist, and God’s enemy will be relentless in his opposition, but our standing before God “in Christ” will never alter (Romans 8:1; Galatians 3:26). Therefore, it’s essential for believers to discipline themselves in a constant focus on the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews  12:2). We choose  to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10). We do this by letting the word of Christ dwell in us… and by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). We do this by intentionally putting on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11, 14-18). We do this by inviting and allowing the love of Christ to control us and to determine our gospel centred responses to life (2 Corinthians 5:14). And we do this by using God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NLT).

God’s Word, energised by the Holy Spirit, provides us with an arsenal of spiritual artillery in the battle against sin, against destructive thinking, and against the devil. And it is God’s mercy that motivates us to be on our guard; to stand firm in the faith, to be courageous, and to be strong, doing everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:13-14. Cf. Jude 1:20-23). May the apostle John’s greeting of 2 John 1:3, be true in our lives today; Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. Amen.

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A right response to mercy – Part 1

Often we take God’s mercies for granted, as they mostly operate invisibly in our lives. While “grace” describes the underserved nature of God’s love, “mercy” expresses God’s compassion in His love for we unworthy recipients. It’s God’s mercy which compels His desire to administer life’s daily provisions, not to mention the enormous number of unseen heavenly blessings. In this tangible world, we can only physically  experience and identify very few of God’s mercies compared to the gigantic reservoir that exists outside of our earthly senses (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-4; 1 John 3:1-3).

Our appreciation of God’s mercy operates at the same level within our hearts as our love for God. As we increasingly recognise mercy, so we are enabled to respond more with love for Yahweh. As Peter knew and stated,  our love for God is not dependent upon a tangible manifestation of the Lord. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9). Peter, who suffered greatly for Jesus Christ, understood that the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls, is of first and ultimate importance, everything else falls second.

The apostle Paul expands on a right response to mercy in Romans 12:1, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. The foundation for all our experiences of God, including our capacity to perceive Him, is His mercy. God’s mercy turns our fleshly hearts towards heaven, often in confusion and desperation, calling out for God to intervene in our lives.

Worship is the only right response to God’s mercy, and Paul specifies the precise nature of appropriate worship. Paul gets to the heart of the matter, explaining that we are to surrender our bodies, with all the complexities and implications that make up our daily lives. This is what he means by the words “as a living sacrifice.” Real world surrender to holiness is right and best reflects God’s holiness. This is what God calls acceptable spiritual worship!

Most will acknowledge, that this response to God’s mercy is not natural or always easy. It requires faith, sacrificial commitment, and discipline of our hearts and minds. This is why in the following verse (Romans 12:3), Paul reminds us that its God’s grace that enables us to examine ourselves to ensure that we are not proud. Because it’s human pride that challenges both God’s grace and mercy, claiming to be worthy of so much more than we really are. Whereas humility bows to God in gratitude and expressions of appreciation.

Although God’s mercy is often mocked because He dispenses it in His desired ways and in His timing, the fact remains, God’s patient blessings stand upon His mercy. God’s mercy and love are Siamese twins, conjoined in God’s heart, inseparable, and delivered to us through His Son Jesus Christ, His indwelling Holy Spirit, and His written Word, the Bible. 

Paul told the Ephesian believers that God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5). Only our arrival in heaven will permit us to fully comprehend the significance of these words. But for now, may we speak well of our Lord in word and deed, because of His mercy!

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Replacing the old life with the new

For some Christians, the battle between pre-salvation desires and their new preferences for living in Christ is relentless, but for others it’s not so dominant. For some, spiritual rebirth washed away the vicious battle against sin, while others continue with the struggle against weaknesses in temptation and fleshly passions. Paul, being the realist he was, speaks to this reality in his letter to the Colossian’ church, highlighting the believer’s responsibility and God’s provision.

The umbrella focus for every believer is to ​seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2). This shift in daily focus alters our view of life from self to heavenly. Motives, attitudes, priorities, relationships, routines, activities, and much more, are seriously impacted by this overarching move in our mental direction. This shift is not only enabled by the Holy Spirit, but by realising that through  faith in Jesus Christ as Lord,  you have died (to self and sin), and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Integral to this is a God-given realisation that when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:4). This earthly  experience is not our permanent arena, but eternal life in glorious heaven with Christ is. And He’s coming one day to take us there.

Paul proceeds through Colossians 3:5-17, to catalogue some practical and strengthening Christian disciplines which equip, comfort, and refresh believers in the stresses and exhaustion of daily living. Essential to spiritual vitality is our need to put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Likewise, you must put  away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. These sins may be acceptable and normalised in worldly society, but they are the sources of great suffering and anxiety for all you claim to belong to Christ. We Christians are responsible to remove these vices from our lives.

Similarly, we are to intentionally put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Through our surrendered daily intake of God’s Word, prayer, discipleship, and fellowship, we are enabled to become more holy and beloved, (with) compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, becoming more obvious in our lives.

Central to all this is a soft-hearted attitude that bows to the Lord Jesus, enabling us to let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And it is when the peace of Jesus governs our outlook upon life that we can truly be thankful. As God’s Word masters our thinking and heart attitudes, so we experience change in the way we view others. Commonly, as we grow in Christ, our desires to be teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God increases. As church fellowship and worship become more valuable and more desirable, so other’s faults and irritations become less important to us.

Our growing relationship with the Lord is to permeate every part of life for His pleasure and glory. Paul concludes by reminding us that no matter what you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. This does not mean that we are blind to the difficulties of life, but it does mean we can see and experience Jesus Christ in all of life with thankful understanding.

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A changed man tells of Jesus’ mercy

Few Bible stories tell of such a dramatic change in direction as the man of Mark 5:1-20. Jesus, accompanied by his disciples, having sailed through the night, arrive in the Gentile countryside of the Gerasenes, on the eastern shore of the sea of Galilee. Having landed, they were immediately met by a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs (Luke 8:27). Mark 5:3-6 tells us that no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.

This man was about to experience the very thing he had most likely given up all hope of; deliverance from the extremely destructive effects of demonic power in his life. 1 John 3:8 tells us that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. And this man, who had taken on the name of Legion, was about to experience the absolute and uncontested power of Jesus Christ over demonic authorities.

Close to the landing place was a nearby town’s graveyard with a herd of 2000 pigs grazing on a sloping grass paddock. Now, pigs are not tranquil grazers. Pigs are scavengers who forage for food of any kind by digging holes. They’re noisy carnivore bullies who rustle and tussle with each other  without polite manners. Everything about this scene was out of sorts by our modern way of thinking. From the group of dishevelled Jewish sailors in a Gentile region, the loud and violent demon possessed man, to the loud and smelly pigs. The whole scene reeked of disorder. Then, in steps the Son of God, bringing order into chaos!

Jesus speaks with Legion, and the demons, knowing that Jesus was about to cast them out, request to be sent into the nearby heard of pigs, which Jesus did. To everyone’s surprise, the entire herd of pigs’ stampede into the sea of Galilee. Understandably, the herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country… (Mark 5:14), …they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men (Matthew 8:33). Unwittingly, these herdsmen became evangelists simply by spreading the news near and far of what Jesus had done. They didn’t get creative with a different method for each hearing, they simply retold the facts, especially of the deliverance of the man. Job well done men!

The result was they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid (Mark 5:14-15). Verse 17 says, they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. These people didn’t simply want Jesus to be silent, or to stop doing miracles, they wanted Jesus out of their lives. As Jesus was getting into the boat to depart, the delivered man asked to travel with Him. But Jesus instructed him to go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you (Mark 5:19).

As followers of Jesus, we testify about Jesus’ mercy and what He has done!   It’s that simple.

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