We live in a judgmental world where comparison is more commonplace than kindness. But the Bible says that mercy triumphs over judgment. So how does this spiritual truth work out in real life?
Looking at the Bible, the message is clear. Mercy wins.
But in the world, judgment is running rampant and mercy isn’t so popular. So how is mercy winning? Digging deeper into scripture we can find answers.
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When Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
Maybe, like me, you’ve been on the receiving end of more judgmental opinions than you'd care to know about. And if we’re honest, we do our fair share of judging, too.
It starts with comparing ourselves to others. Comparison serves worldly ambition. It is the beginning of judgment and it helps feed greed and rivalries. How often do you see ads that point out every flaw in the other, whether it’s a political opponent or rival product?
Ads intentionally try to get you to judge yourself. Are you thin enough? Pretty enough? No? Buy this. In this world, judgment reigns.
But in God’s kingdom, things work differently. Where judgment fails to connect us to God, mercy makes a way. At the cross of Christ, we are made right before God through faith in Christ, without paying for our wrongdoings. Jesus paid for our sins – not because we deserve it – but because God chose to take the cost of our sins upon himself. This is mercy.
What Does it Mean That Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment?
So, what does it mean for those of us who are followers of Christ? If mercy triumphs over judgment, how does that affect how we live?
As Christians, we have a calling to bring God’s kingdom into this world. We are to treat others as we have been treated. This means we are to thwart the world’s systems of judgment and live into His merciful ways.
Let's look at the Bible verse in James in context.
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.” James 2:13 HCSB
We are told to act like we are operating under the new law (which is freedom) because we are free from condemnation.
What Does the Bible Say About Mercy
The Bible speaks a great deal more about mercy. What stands out most to me are the words of Jesus. He tells his followers more than once to learn what it means when Hosea 6:6 says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.“
First, in Matthew 9:13, Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And Jesus says it again in Matthew 12:7. “If you had known what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent.”
So, what is Jesus telling us to learn? In the Old Testament, when someone sinned, was judged, and found guilty, they were required to make a sacrifice. Through this sacrifice, justice was served and the person was restored to good standing.
But as those now under “the law that gives freedom,” justification comes through mercy. Jesus is telling his followers to act like him by responding to the sins and inadequacies of others with mercy.
When we sin, God doesn’t want us to make a sacrifice, then go back to sinning. Rather, He wants us to turn from our sins and remember the mercy we have received and pay it forward with mercy for others.
What Does the Bible Say About Judging Others
The Bible often couples mercy with the command not to judge. Jesus says,
“Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” Luke 6:36-37.
But in another verse, Jesus tells us to judge.
“Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment” John 7:24
So, what’s the deal? Why is Jesus now talking about judging others?
He’s actually not calling us to judge people in the verse of John. He’s talking about judging a situation. In context, legalistic Jews accused Jesus, condemning him for healing on the Sabbath. He’s telling them (and us) to judge situations by looking beyond the surface.
Judging a person usually leads to condemning them. We decide they are in the wrong and try to carry out justice against them through punishment. This is not our calling as those who have received mercy.
And we most certainly have no business judging someone else’s soul. That is for God alone.
“There is only one lawgiver and judge” James 4:12
We are out of place to speak any eternal condemnation against another. However, we can discern where we think someone might be eternally for the purposes of ministering to them mercifully.
What Does it Mean to Be Merciful to Others
So, what does it mean to be merciful to others? I like how I worded it in my book, Parenting in Christ: Training in the Disciplines of Jesus, “Mercy refers to one’s actions in response to someone of a lower position who is in need.”
Showing mercy may mean withholding punishment or giving help. The Hebrew and Greek words associated with this term are also translated as “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “goodness,” “favor,” “compassion,” and “pity.” Mercy is coupled with grace throughout scripture. Grace is undeserved favor and mercy is undeserved forgiveness. Grace and mercy depend on the giver, not on whether the one who receives is worthy or deserving (Romans 9:16).”
Mercy is slightly different than forgiveness in that there is usually a difference in relationship. Anyone can forgive another. But the one showing mercy is usually in a position of authority or power in some way over the one needing mercy. So, mercy is something that a judge, police officer, or even a parent would give. They cancel some debt you owe free and clear, without any other consequence.
Related: 6 Important Reasons to Forgive Those Who’ve Hurt You
To be merciful may also mean to show a kindness or pay off the debt of another – that they don’t even owe you – and to not expect anything back. Mercy is what the good Samaritan did for the man who was beaten on the side of the road (Luke 10:25-37). In a way, mercy is being “unjustly kind.” It’s tipping the scales in someone else’s favor at your own expense like Jesus did for us on the cross.
So for us, mercy can also be giving to the poor, helping the sick, or caring for an orphan. It's giving un-earned kindness to someone else because they need it.
Bible Verses About Mercy
God’s mercy is what allows us to become his people. His compassion for us opens the door for us to become holy and acceptable, adopted by God.
“Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” I Peter 2:10
Mercy is God’s plan for all. So rather than judging others in their sin, we should invite them to join with us in receiving His mercy.
“As you once disobeyed God, but now have received mercy through their disobedience, so they too have now disobeyed, resulting in mercy to you, so that they also now may receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all” Romans 11:30-32
Mercy takes away our right to boast. We did not earn acceptance, but have received it through mercy.
“He saved us– not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy — through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” Titus 3:5
Sharing the mercy we have received is our testimony! It does not benefit anyone to tell them how good we are. Rather, we share that despite our weaknesses, God’s mercy is greater. As Paul encouraged Timothy.
“But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life” I Timothy 1:16
God is not stingy or begrudging of giving his mercy, but He is full and overflowing with mercy towards us. There is enough mercy to cover every sin. There is no depth of evil deed, no shame too great, no word too foul that the cross cannot bear.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!“ Ephesians 2:4-5
Let Mercy Reign!
In my experience, mercy is harder to give than it is to receive. I want there to be “justice” and “fairness” as I see it. And usually, I want it right away.
Thank God that He does not treat me this way! He is patient and His way – the way of mercy is better. And despite what we think judgment and punishment might do for us, mercy does it better.
Maybe we want our offender to “learn a lesson.” But punishment turns out to be a bad teacher. In Romans 2:4, God warns us again of the dangers of giving out judgment.
“Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
It’s kindness that melts a heart to turn from evil, not exacting “justice.” When it comes to inspiring a truly repentant heart, mercy reigns.
So, let’s be like our good and just Father in heaven, rich in mercy and abounding in love. Let’s join His winning team, team mercy – because mercy triumphs over judgment.