When you take grace, mercy and patience out of the Biblical equation, Christianity is perplexing and impossible and chaotic and frustration and overwhelming.
Sometimes we hear those words so often that we forget their meaning. Like the word growth. We refer to growing as a Christian but sometimes forget that growth implies a process, which demands time.
Sometimes I get caught up in “Where’s the verse that tells me it’s okay to grow slowly as a Christian?” or “If the Bible says this, then I should do this right now or else I’m bound to hell” or “Where does the Bible say it’s okay to take time to learn things or master doing the right thing?”
And all the verses about mercy and grace and the long-suffering of the Lord don’t pop out to me. Instead, all of the verses about obedience and the new man and repentance and confrontation fill my mind.
I don’t think everyone has this problem. I don’t even think most people have this problem. And I think some people have the opposite problem. I think a lot of people are fortunate enough to “get it.” But I have this problem, and I realized it’s because I’ve tried to dissect and apply Christianity in the absence of mercy, grace and patience. Mercy and grace always bring to mind the cross, as though that was the extent of God’s grace and loving-kindness. As though it ended there and everything else is up to me.
So, in my mind, those aspects are removed.
So, it looks something like this:
God extended His grace and made it possible for me to be saved > I became a Christian > the Bible says to put off the new man and do xyz(except it’s way more than just xyz, it’s a whole New Testament of commands) > I try really hard and succeed with x and fail with z and y > process repeats endlessly > I feel overwhelmed, guilty and hopeless > I’m going to hell because I know better and should be able to do what the Bible says.
In my mind, there is no room for progress if progress implies occasional failure. If by progress you mean going from good to better, then that’s okay, but it is unacceptable for a Christian to sin because sin separates us from God and therefore you can’t be saved unless you swiftly (like immediately, like the moment you sin) repent.
Sometimes I think I write something clearly, and then someone misunderstands, so to be extra careful: everything I just described is what goes on in my head that makes being a Christian very, very difficult for me. It is solely a problem in my reasoning and not what the Bible teaches.
And yet, it’s not that I don’t get it because I have so much more patience with others (most times- definitely not always). When a wife is cheated on and she knows forgiveness is a foundational characteristic of Christianity, but after having just found out, she finds she’s just not ready- I’m understanding. Compassionate. I firmly believe she needs time, not for me to point at the clock and a Bible verse. She knows what she should do, but sometimes we aren’t strong enough at that time.
And maybe you’ve been in that position, but you found the strength to forgive quickly.
That sort of thinking is such a stumbling block: Not everyone is you. Not everyone is me.
Brethren need to have compassion and understanding with one another, especially those who are slower with things we may think are simple. The truth is, none of us will stand before God perfect through our own will. None of us will stand before God with pride or arrogance or whatever you want to call it when you judge and compare others in their times of weakness. The truth is that God desires humility and mercy on our parts, and He will lift up the humble and give mercy to the merciful, so we need to be mindful of that when condemning or confronting others. And that’s where patience- our patience- comes in to play. People grow at their own pace, even people who know something is wrong and yet still do it; we can’t know where they’ll be if we give them a few years. I’m sure we can all look back at times in our lives where we struggled with a certain sin or temptation. And maybe we can see now that it all worked out in the end. So we should have patience and compassion and with others; we should have faith.
God is merciful to the good-hearted.
As long as we have pure hearts and are striving toward God and want to please Him and work to crucify ourselves, then His mercy is in our favor when we stumble.
Some people worry that emphasizing this teaching might encourage rampant sin or that it will be misconstrued, especially since this teaching relies on a person’s heart, something that can’t be measured or seen in its entirety, that can’t always be regulated and judged by someone else. Maybe some will take this teaching and run and fail to understand the importance of keeping God’s commands. But in the same way, without this teaching, others will be crushed under a burden too heavy to carry. Without this teaching, hypocrisy will creep through and bitterness may grow. Without this teaching and understanding of God’s loving-kindness and patience and His mercy (which, by definition, is compassion bestowed upon those who are undeserving), some may walk away forever, ignorant of the beauty of mercy.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” – Matthew 23:23
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” – 2 Peter 2:9
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:13
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16
“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” – James 2:13