The Law of Freedom and Living in Mercy (James 2:12-13)

Speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
-James 2:12-13

5 or 6 years ago, I got a revelation from God that in the future, we would live in mercy.  I posted this on facebook, got a little bit of positive feedback; and went on.  But I thought about mercy.  It is an important word in the Bible.

Mercy occurs 112 times in my CSB translation.  56 times in both the OT and NT.

I looked up Mercy in the Theopedia:
The term mercy may designate both character and actions that emerge as a consequence of that character. As a part of character, mercy is demonstrated most clearly by such qualities as compassion and forbearance. With respect to action an act of mercy issues from compassion and forbearance; in a legal sense mercy may involve such acts as pardon, forgiveness, or the mitigation of penalties.^ [1]^ In each case mercy is experienced and exercised by a person who has another person in his power, or under his authority, or from whom no kindness can be claimed. Thus God may show mercy toward human beings, who are all ultimately within his power, even though they have no direct claim, in terms of their behavior, to attitudes or actions of mercy. And a human being may be merciful another, to whom neither compassion nor forbearance is due, by free act of though toward that person.^ [2]^
From a theological perspective the characteristic of mercy is rooted in God and experienced in relation to God, from whom it may be acquired as a Christian virtue and exercised in relation to fellow human beings.^[3]^ In the Bible a variety of Hebrew and Greek words are used which fall within the general semantic range of the English word "mercy." They include such terms as "lovingkindness" (Heb. ?esed), "to be merciful" (Heb. ??nan), "to have compassion" (Heb. ri?am), and "grace" (Gr. charis).^[4]^
In the OT, mercy (in the sense of lovingkindness) is a central theme; the very existence of the covenant between God and Israel was an example of mercy, being granted to Israel freely and without prior obligation on the part of God (Ps. 79:8-9; Isa. 63:7). Insofar as the covenant was rooted in divine love, mercy was an ever-present quality of the relationship it expressed; the law, which formed a central part of the covenant relationship, cam with the promise of forgiveness and mercy, contingent upon repentance, for the breaking of that law.^[5]^ Yet the divine mercy extended beyond the obligations of the covenant, so that even when Israel's sin had exhausted the covenantal category of mercy, still the loving mercy of God reached beyond the broken covenant in its promise and compassion to Israel.^[6]^
With the new covenant the mercy of God is seen in the death of Jesus Christ; the sacrificial death is in itself a merciful act, demonstrating the divine compassion and making possible the forgiveness of sins. From this fundamental gospel there follows the requirement for all Christians, who are by definition the recipients of mercy, to exercise mercy and compassion toward fellow human beings (Matt. 5:7; James 2:13).^[7]^
Throughout Christian history the awareness of the continuing human need for divine mercy has remained as a central part of Christian worship. The kyrie eleison of the ancient church has continued to be used in many liturgical forms of worship: "Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord have mercy upon us." And from the prayer emploed in worship for God's mercy, there must follow the practice of mercy in life.^[8]^
  1. Rudolf Bultmann, "Mercy" Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1964), 2:477-87.
  2. Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961).
  3. Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1975), 2:593-601.
  4.  Ibid.
  5. H. Köster, "Compassion" Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1964), 7:548-59.
  6. Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1967).
  7. W. L. Reed, Journal of Biblical Literature, (Chico, Calif.: Scholar's Press, 1881), 23:35-41.
  8. Norman H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, (New York: Schocken Books, 1964).

Yesterday, I came across a sermon that Mike Bickle preached right after Donald Trump won the election, two years ago, titled, Responding after the election of Donald Trump.

In his sermon, he makes two big points:

  1. The transforming power of God's mercy
  2. Above all things, express love, grace, and mercy

Mike's first verse, to support his message, is James 2:13, "Mercy triumphs over judgement".

Mike says this means, "Mercy triumphs over judgement  -spiritually, emotionally, relationally, economically, physically, etc.", and that, "In this verse, judgement speaks of unhelpful criticism, accusation, uncovering faults, whispering, etc."

Mike addressed the anger and hate on both sides and said that what we need is mercy.  Mike said (I am paraphrasing) that while Trump was not ideal, for many Christians, that it was God's mercy that Hillary Clinton was not elected.

The point Mike made, when preaching on James 2:13, in the first part of his sermon, is that, in this time,  showing mercy, instead of judgmentalism, is what is called for.

"Mercy triumphs over judgement", does not mean some sort of universalism, where God forgives sinners, without their repentance.  What it does mean is that believers choose to live in mercy, rather than judgement.

The Bible says, "Judge not", which means "Don't condemn".  When you step on my toes or steal something from me, or when someone hurts people, or does terrible things to children, we definitely judge them, want them to stop, to be judged, as in have authorities deal with them.

When someone runs a red light and puts other cars and pedestrians in jeopardy, we can judge them as not only foolish, but wrong.  And there are many things people do, that we can say, "That's evil", and not be judgemental.

But when that person runs the red light and we think or say, "Jackass!", of something worse, we are judging wrongly.

My dad's best friend, Gus Solomon, wrote and recorded a song, called "Weeping for the mugger", in the 1970's or early 80's, that no one was interested in.

The chorus goes like this:
Oh they're weeping for the mugger. with sympathy profound
They say that he's the only victim, not the fellow on on the ground  
There is something called "Unsanctified mercy", where our mercy extends beyond God's and it is wrong.  This is how someone defined it, on a Bible forum board:
The way I understand it, 'unsanctified mercy' refers to dealing out 'mercy' when discipline or judgement is required by God.
For example, in 1 Samuel 15, King Saul is commanded by God to attack the Amalekites and completely destroy them, sparing no one, man or beast (v.3). God says to do it because he is going to 'punish them for what they to Israel when they waylaid them as they were coming up from Egypt' (v3)
However, Saul spares the king, Agag, and the best of his cattle - the unsanctified mercy. For his sin, God rejects Saul as King of Israel. Saul confesses his sin, and then carries out the Lord's judgement on Agag.
So 'undeserved' has nothing to do with it - no one deserves mercy. It is when an unrepentant individual who has willfully sinned is shown mercy when God has said that they must be disciplined.
So say Hitler was pardoned for his war crimes, even though he was given many chances to back down. That would be unsanctified mercy. Or say a brother in the church willfully continues in an adulterous relationship and refuses to repent. Biblically, he should be asked to leave the church. Unsanctified mercy would be to pardon him, though he does not repent.
Charlie Shelf wrote an article, in which he gives examples of unsanctified mercy, that some Christians embrace today:
Unsanctified mercy leads the church down pathways of compromise, irrelevance and ineffective witness. Here are some of the ways compassion is fogging the vision of well-meaning believers:
Sexual ethics and identity: ...we must promote celibacy for singles and fidelity for heterosexual, monogamous marriage, even when it is hard and unpopular.
Economic justice: So many well-meaning believers fall into soft socialist and redistributionist ideologies in the name of fairness, ignoring the factors that lead to human flourishing. ...(See the new award-winning Acton Institute feature presentation, “Poverty Inc.” as well as the video series)... Personal virtue and private property, the rule of law and access to markets are the structural changes that will liberate the creativity and prosperity God’s intends for his creation. Crony capitalism is the great weakness of both conservative and progressive political powers, with local business owners and workers left in the dust. Reparations are just a slogan without accountability and stewardship. Welfare without work dehumanizes recipients. 
Climate change and ecological policies: The science is not settled and thoughtful believers should “follow the money and power” as globalists attempt to extract more wealth from the West for the rest with no participation from the Chinese, Indian and Russian empires.  ...Somewhere between unbridled exploitation and elitist global governance is true stewardship. The Body of Christ must point the way.
Racial Reconciliation: ...We must exchange suspicion for openness and anger for humility. When someone speaks about morality, work ethics and personal responsibility, it is not always “code” for racism. Conversely, those in power must understand the institutional injustices and social barriers keeping many from flourishing. I commend the irenic works of Anthony Bradley and Chris Brooks for ways forward that get past the polemics.
Now back to the book of James.   Remember that the two broad themes of James are (1):
  • Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems.
  • How to live as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The context of the text. "Mercy triumphs over justice.", is the previous verse: "Speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy.".

The verse 13 (Mercy triumphs...") is a comment on the previous verse.

These two verses, that end a section of James letter, convey two thoughts:
  1. The Christian lives under the law of freedom, and it is by this law of freedom that he will be judged.
  2. The Christian must always live, by the rule that, only as mercy is given, will mercy be had.
Now, what does this mean?  Unlike pre-Christian Jews, who seek to please God, we are not governed by an external law, imposed on us.  We instead are governed by the love of Christ, which leads us to love God and then to love people.  We are not governed externally, by fear of punishment or failure.  But we are governed by the love of Christ in our hearts that compels us. 

This leads us to point 2, which echoes Jesus words in the beatitudes: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7).  Jesus further says that if we forgive others, our Father will forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15), and on judgments Jesus says not to judge and if we do, we will be judged under the same scrutiny (Matthew 7:1-2).

In the context of the harsh Roman Empire and Herodian political environment, and added to that the persecution of Christ's followers by fellow Jews, Jesus says to his followers, "Have mercy", and "Don't judge".  And James is echoing that and building upon it here.

And recall Jesus parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.  Jesus says that the person who refuses to forgive gets handed over to the torturers.  To say, "That is unforgivable", is not in the Christian's vocabulary.

When people are arrested, for crimes, it is mercy; because it gives them another chance at redemption.

When soldiers are on the battlefield, they have to kill those who are trying to kill them.  But capture is an option when the enemy is disarmed or surrenders.  Then, redemption or rehabilitation can occur.

Incarceration or penalties, including death, are not the final judgement, but opportunities for redemption, before the final judgement.

James echoes what Jesus said, "be merciful and find mercy".  In other words, if you don't show mercy, you won't get mercy.  So to live in mercy, you must be merciful.

People, Christians, who don't live by mercy and don't give mercy, will not get mercy.  They are ruining their own salvation, ruining their lives, their living.

If you are not merciful, if you don't show or give mercy; you are saying you are not a Christian.  If you are not merciful, all of you or a part of you needs salvation, mercy, forgiveness, and transformation.

Revival is when dead comes to life.  Dead believers are unmerciful.  We will rediscover mercy, be merciful.

And mercy is the gospel of the kingdom and the kingdom of the Christ.

Mercy is in the Bible 112 times.  It's important to God.  Mercy is part of God's character.  God's children are merciful.  We live under mercy, by mercy, and in mercy.

1. God's Epic Adventure, Winn Griffin

James, William Barclay

Photo above taken from here.