When the car my parents had parked in an empty lot with a “for sale” sign in the window was deliberately set on fire, my primal instinct for swift and severe punishment rose within me.

The natural inclination to do harm to those who’ve insulted or injured us comes easily, but it runs counter to the Spirit-led response of extending mercy.

According to Jesus, demonstrating kindness to “ungrateful and evil men” is evidence of our allegiance to Him (Luke 9:35). Returning good to those who do us good is what “sinners” do (Luke 9:33). The Lord expects much more of genuine believers.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 9:36) is Christ’s admonition complete with motivation. Our refusal to give others the treatment their behavior deserves (being merciful) is illustrated and motivated by our Heavenly Father’s example.

Nobody should understand more clearly the Father’s choice not to “give what is deserved” than those who are truly His children.

Every human being is a rebel by nature (Psalm 51:5) and by choice (Romans 3:23). In our hearts and with our hands we are guilty of pride, envy, coveting, stealing, idolatry and much more. The Psalmist put it bluntly: “They are corrupt… there is no one who does good.” (Psalm 14:1) Wickedness—not goodness—rules our hearts.

Polluted hearts make us “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), deserving the punishment of a holy God (1 Peter 1:15).

“But God, being rich in mercy… made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4,5). God made a way through Christ for the “children destined for wrath” to become “children of God” (John 1:12).

God offered up His sinless Son Jesus as a sacrifice in our place. to satisfy the just punishment of our sin. But we must believe in Him. “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8). Through faith in Christ, who died for our sin and rose again, we are delivered from eternal condemnation and into eternal life (John 3:16 and 5:24).

Through faith in Him, the guilty are pardoned and the condemned are delivered—not because of what we have done (“not as a result of works”) but because “He was delivered up on account of our sins and raised again to bring about our justification.” (Romans 4:25)

The recipients of God’s rich mercy reflect what we’ve received to those who cut us off in traffic, offend us on social media, treat us rudely, harm us physically, or damage our property.

Mercy extends kindness to those who oppose us because we opposed God and experienced His undeserved kindness.

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