According to the Barna Research Group, 87% of millennials who don’t go to church say they see Christians as judgmental. How did they come to this conclusion about a faith that teaches not to judge, but to show mercy?
Unfortunately, many of the most outspoken people who identify as Christians buy into the idea that speaking condemnation will somehow turn a sinner to God. But scripture declares otherwise.
God has made mercy his catalyst for repentance. It is mercy that leads a sinner to repentance.
Therefore you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are who judge. For in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself. For you who judge practice the same things. We know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. Do you think this, O man who judges those who practice such things, and do the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? -Romans 2:1-4
What Does It Mean To Show Mercy?
To show mercy means to have compassion or forgiveness for someone who should be punished or could be treated harshly. It is undeserved forgiveness or kindness given by a person in power, who is also often the one who has been wronged.
When we are angry, it’s our natural reaction to want to hurt the one who hurt us. But if you have mercy, you don’t blame, shame, or punish, even if they deserve it.
If it is deserved, it is not mercy.
Mercy sets the wrongdoer free from the fear punishment. It allows them instead to be perfected by love. As I John 4:18 put it, “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.”
How to Practice Mercy in Parenting
Parenting mercifully doesn’t mean pretending your kids don’t do wrong. It doesn’t mean condoning bad behavior or turning a blind eye. It’s right to be angry when someone sins. Mercy doesn’t deny this, but redirects it.
Showing mercy means turning our anger at sin away from the sinner and towards the wrongdoing. Sin hurts. It is loving to point out sin, to explain why it is wrong, and what the consequences are. “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15).
Scripture tells us to gently confront those who are sinning. “If a man is caught in some fault, you who are spiritual must restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
We can correct our children and help them to see consequences without condemnation. When appropriate, we can show mercy by taking the cost upon ourselves, not demanding anything of the other person whether payment or payback. This is what Jesus did for us.
Examples of Mercy
Let’s say one of your kids goes to school forgets their lunch at home. The natural consequence is to allow them to go without lunch. Personally, I’m of the opinion that kids should face natural consequences, but we should also find ways to show them mercy. Showing mercy also means having compassion for the suffering of another. In this case, a way to show mercy is to have money on a school lunch account, so they don’ go hungry.
Another way to to show mercy is to clean up a mess that they made. Doing this is showing mercy in taking on the consequences of something your child has done.
In life, God does allow us to face the natural consequences of our mistakes. He does leave our messes for us to clean up. But he also shows us mercy. We do not pay the full price for our sins. We do not stand condemned and He does fix some of our mistakes. So we parents too should follow in this pattern of our heavenly Father.
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What The Bible Says About Mercy
I believe the Bible is best viewed through the lens of the gospel – the life and words of Jesus. Jesus told his followers, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners” Matthew 9:13. He was referring to Hosea 6:6 and again quotes Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 12:7.
So what are the biblical instructions for believers regarding mercy? What does it mean that God desires mercy not sacrifice?
Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement
James 2:13 (HCSB) tells us to “Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
In the Old Testament law, those who were caught in sin were put on trial. They were judged and required to pay the penalty in order to restore them to temporary good standing. Under the new law of Christ, we are freed from condemnation by God’s mercy. When Christ died on the cross, God took the cost of our sins on Himself because He had compassion on us. It is this mercy that makes us eternally righteous.
This mercy did what judgment, punishment, and sacrifices couldn’t do. Mercy won the epic battle over sin. It opened the door to relationship and connection with God. It made us His children. Mercy triumphed over judgment.
Giving Mercy Relates To Receiving Mercy
In the sermon on the mount Jesus said, “The merciful are blessed,
for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). When we give mercy to others we reflect the heart of our God Father in heaven. We live out the prayer Jesus taught us to pray “your kingdom come.” Being merciful is living out God’s kingdom principle.
Jesus speaks to this relationship in giving and receiving mercy in Luke 6:36-37, WEB. “Be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Set free, and you will be set free.”
The first part of James 2:13 says “For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy.” We have been saved by God’s mercy. There’s no denying that we are also called to show mercy.
Mercy Leads to Repentance
One of the biggest objections I hear to showing mercy towards children is that it’s going to lead to kids who don’t behave and won’t come to God.
On the surface, this appears to be true. If we let our children live without consequences of any kind, how can they learn? But not letting our children experience consequences ever, is in fact, not merciful at all. As stated above, we are called to gently correct those who sin.
But if it’s repentance we are looking for in our child, we need to incorporate mercy in our parenting. Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness, not condemnation, leads us to repentance. And so your kindness and mercy can do the same for your children.
Some Final Thoughts on Showing Mercy
If you want to love your children well, you must include mercy. Love is perfected by mercy. And the one who is forgiven much loves much in return (Luke 7:47). Mercy builds our children up in love.
My favorite quote on mercy (outside of the Bible) is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a pastor who had compassion for those being treated harshly, and so he died standing up against the Nazis.
He gave me comfort, forgave all my errors and did not find me guilty of evil. When I was his enemy and did not respect his commandments, he treated me like a friend. When I did him wrong, he returned to me only goodness. I can hardly fathom why the Lord loves me in this way, why I am so dear to him. I cannot understand how he managed to and wanted to win my heart with his love, all I can say is: ‘I have received mercy.”
–La fragilità del male, raccolta di scritti inediti
– Excerpts from my book, “Parenting in Christ: Lessons from the Parables”