For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10)
This verse brings us to another privilege: compassion from our Lord. We see this other places in Scripture:
For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15)
And I will sow her for Myself in the land.
I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hosea 2:23)
Those in the church, who were once not a people, are now the people of God. And what is the means of this change? The means is mercy. A “no people,” the Gentiles, became God’s people through mercy.
Just what is mercy? It’s basically pity or compassion. The Old Testament could substitute the word “loving-kindness” from that familiar Hebrew word, hesed. It is God’s withholding from us the just punishment of our sin.
There are two kinds of mercy. We could call one general mercy. It’s seen in God’s providence to the widest range of human beings. It shows us His patient pity, His forbearing compassion to sinners.
God has every right to destroy sinners immediately. But listen to what it says in Lamentations 3:22:
The lovingkindnesses of Yahweh indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
The verse is not really identifying any particular group of people. He is just compassionate. It says the same in Psalm 145:9:
Yahweh is good to all,
And His compassions are over all His works.
God mercifully eliminates the present, earthly, full, potential disaster of sin. That’s general mercy, which comes upon all people.
But Peter is not talking about general mercy — he’s talking about special mercy. That is mercy on the elect.
Now listen very carefully: This mercy is equally undeserved, for we are sinners like the rest. For some people, God is generally merciful in this life by alleviating the present full potential disaster of sin. For other people, He alleviates forever the potential disaster of sin. Those are the elect, who receive not only the general mercy in this life but the special mercy in the life to come.
He bestows compassion on sinners by forgiving their sin. In the case of the unregenerate, He just withholds judgment until the future. In the case of the elect, He forgives the sin and eliminates the judgment.
Why? Because He wanted to.
Why did He want to? Because He’s a God of love.
Why us? I don’t know. He has mercy on whom He will have mercy.
Now, it is not the wretchedness of the sinner that causes God to show mercy. God is not sitting in heaven saying, “Oh, I feel so sorry for all the sinners. And I’m so emotionally distraught about their sin that I’m going to be merciful to them.” God does not show mercy out of a certain feeling for the wretchedness of man, because if that were true, God would have to be merciful to all of them. That’s not the compelling issue.
Secondly, it is not because some of us sinners are more worthy of mercy than others of us. None of us are worthy of it, right? If we were, it wouldn’t be mercy, because mercy is holding back the just punishment which we deserve.
Furthermore, God is not merciful to some of us because Christ made it possible for Him to be merciful. You hear people say, “Now that Christ has died, it is possible for God to be merciful, and He wants to pour out that mercy because of what Christ has done.” If that were true, since Christ died for all and mercy would be available for all, then God would save all.
It is not the wretchedness of the sinner that compels God to show mercy. It is not that some sinners are more worthy of mercy than others. It is not simply that because of the work of Christ God can be merciful. None of those make sense.
You say, “Well, then why did God choose to be merciful?” Because He chose to be merciful. That’s all I know.
We have been chosen by His uninfluenced sovereign love before the world began. This ought to escalate your sense of being a privileged person. We are blessed! We can say this with the psalmist:
For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens
And Your truth to the skies. (Psalm 57:10)
It is mercy that saves us. It is mercy that grants to us an eternal inheritance. Mercy is a spiritual privilege beyond description.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1989, titled “The Believer’s Privileges, Part 6: Separation, Possession, Illumination… .” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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