The Love and Mercy of God Part Four
The previous article introduced key Greek words for God’s mercy in the New Testament and noted the relationship of God’s love to His mercy. This article examines more examples of God’s mercy as expressed through those words.
God’s Eleos Mercy Related to Salvation
Ephesians 2:1–6. The apostle Paul graphically described unsaved people as spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins.” He said they
walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others (vv. 2–3).
Their spiritually dead nature and ungodly lifestyles destined them for God’s wrath. However, Paul also wrote,
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (vv. 4–6).
Romans 9:22–24. People who do not become saved are called “vessels of wrath” (v. 22), and those who do become saved are “vessels of mercy” (v. 23). Since all people are conceived and born in a state of sin (Ps. 51:5) and have sinned against God (Rom. 3:9–18, 23), they are all sinners both by nature and action and deserve God’s wrath. It is only by God’s mercy that any become “vessels of mercy” and are saved from God’s wrath through faith in His Son.
Romans 11:30–32. Paul wrote,
For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their [Israel’s] disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
These statements explain how God’s mercy brought salvation to both Gentile and Jewish people alike. In Old Testament times, God worked primar -ily with the Israelites; and the majority of Gentiles were disobedient to Him by worshiping false deities. But when most of Israel rejected Jesus as its Messiah, it also became disobedient. As a result, Jesus provided salvation for Jewish and Gentile people alike through both His death for their sins and His resurrection, enabling God to have mercy on all.
Romans 15:8–9. One of the reasons “Jesus Christ has become a servant” was so “that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.”
1 Timothy 1:13. Paul gave his personal testimony of God’s saving mercy toward him: “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Before his salvation, Paul blasphemed Jesus Christ, God’s divine Son; persecuted Jewish people who accepted Jesus as their Messiah and Savior; and was insolent. The word translated “insolent” refers to an arrogant person who “invades the sphere of another to his hurt.”1
Paul, therefore, deserved God’s wrath. But God was merciful to him and graciously saved him.
1 Timothy 1:14–15. Paul enlarged his testimony of God’s saving grace and mercy: “And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant” (v. 14). The word translated “exceedingly abundant” means “to be over-abundant” or “excessive.”2 This over-abundant grace of God is associated “with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” It is so associated because “this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (v. 15). The word translated “faithful” means “trustworthy, dependable.”3
Paul thus asserted that the statement “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” is so dependable and trustworthy that all people should accept it as absolute truth. The fact that Christ came to save sinners is what made it possible for God mercifully to exercise overabundant grace to save sinners from His wrath.
The word translated “chief” means “foremost” or “most prominent.”4 Thus Paul said he was the foremost or most prominent type of sinner—the worst of sinners.
1 Timothy 1:16. Paul explained why God, who is holy and judges sinners as “vessels of wrath,” would be merciful to him—the worst type of sinner—and save him by His overabundant grace: “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”
The word translated “longsuffering” refers to patient, steadfast “endurance.”5 The word translated “pattern” means “prototype.”6 A prototype is the “original or model after which anything is formed.”7
Paul indicated Christ knew Paul would eventually believe on Him for eternal life—despite Paul’s persistent blasphemy of Him, persecution of believers, and insolent invasion of the sphere of others to harm them. But because Paul was the worst of sinners and would strongly resist coming to faith in Him, Christ exercised the most patient, steadfast endurance because doing so would bring Paul to salvation.
Thus Paul declared the reason he received God’s mercy to be saved by His overabundant grace was to demonstrate that Christ Jesus is able to exercise the patient, steadfast endurance necessary to bring to eternal salvation anyone who eventually believes on Him. The fact that Christ saved the worst of sinners demonstrates He is able to save any sinner, and the way Christ brought Paul to salvation is how He brings other sinners to eternal life.
New Testament scholar Homer A. Kent, Jr., wrote, “No one can say he is too sinful to be saved since Christ has saved Paul. Furthermore, no Christian should regard any sinner as a hopeless case.”8 And “No other conversion has been recounted so profitably to the winning of sinners to Christ.”9
Titus 3:4–6. Paul declared,
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
1 Peter. 1:3. The apostle Peter wrote,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Because of God’s great mercy, people who trust Christ as Savior experience a second birth. The first birth leads to physical death. The second birth leads to eternal life. Eternal life is guaranteed by the fact that Jesus Christ, who died to provide such life, was resurrected bodily, never to die again.
1 Peter 2:10. Peter wrote primarily to Gentiles “who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” Most Old Testament Gentiles were pagans. They were not part of God’s Chosen People of Israel and not subjects of His mercy. But once Christ died, Jewish and Gentile people alike became subjects of God’s mercy for salvation. And both, when they repented and received forgiveness through Christ, became part of a new people of God: the church.
Jude 21. Jude exhorted believers to be “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” The word translated “looking for” means “wait for, expect.”10 It is in the Greek present tense, which normally indicates continuous action. The same word also appears in Titus 2:13, exhorting saved people to be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Both passages exhort Christians to look continuously for the merciful coming of Jesus Christ to rapture them from Earth to heaven and into the realm of eternal life.
- Georg Bertram, “ubris,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (hereafter cited as TDNT), ed. Gerhard Friedrich, ed./trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 8:295.
- Gerhard Delling, “huperpleonadzo,” TDNT (1968), 6:263.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “pistos,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 670.
- Ibid., “protos,” 733.
- Ibid., “makrothumia,” 489.
- Ibid., “upotuposis,” 856.
- The American College Dictionary, text ed. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), s.v. “prototype,” 974.
- Homer A. Kent, Jr., The Pastoral Epistles (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1958), 93.
- Ibid., 94.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “prosdexomai,” 719.