Oh mercy

Step 3. Realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, haven’t worked for it and don’t deserve it.
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The Pharisees don’t like mercy because they are legalists. Legalists base everything on the law. They are interpreters of the law; they preserve the law; they represent the law; they live by the law; they justify themselves by the law; and they judge everyone else by the law.


Mercy overrules the law; it rains on the Pharisee’s parade. Mercy announces that God is going to receive people on another basis. Realizing that no one can be justified by the law — that because of sin, the law condemns everyone — mercy does what the law can’t do; it provides a way. Mercy pardons us. It commutes our sentence to Christ and gives us a free pass into righteousness and eternity.

Since legalists stubbornly cling to the notion that they can be justified by the law (or at least they can be better by it), they see mercy as terribly unfair. They work hard for what they get, and they’re not about to let some scoundrel who hasn’t cared a thing about the law receive God’s blessing when they haven’t earned it.

A recovering Pharisee must realize how their legalism is connected to everything that is wrong about religion. There are Christian legalists today, perpetrating the lies of the Pharisees and teaching what is completely antithetical to the gospel. Legalism is not just a flaw in Christian tradition, it is the enemy of the gospel. There is no such thing as a Christian Pharisee. You are either a Pharisee or you are saved by grace and clinging gratefully to the mercy of God — your only hope.

Because mercy overrules the law, it makes the Pharisee irrelevant. This is what Jesus consistently taught in front of all the people, and why the Pharisees were so upset with Him they eventually had Him killed. He dismantled their system, and made them irrelevant.

Parable after parable of Jesus drove this home. The workers who only worked the last hour of the day and somehow received a full day’s pay; the uninvited guests from off the streets who were ushered into the banquet because the invited ones had other things to do; the sinner who cried out for God’s mercy and received it, while the other prayed to himself about how he was better and got nothing; the prodigal son who got the robe and the party while the older son looked on; and the Pharisees who stood at the gates of heaven trying to keep people out while Jesus let’s all the riff raff in. That really got their goat. No wonder they wanted to kill Jesus.

You and I live with the constant realization that we have gotten what we don’t deserve. We don’t take anything lightly. There is no such thing as cheap grace, especially when you know what a jerk you are. God has chosen to be merciful to us — why? we don’t know — but we are not going to belabor the issue. We are going to receive His mercy and go on rejoicing, telling everyone about it, because we know He has been merciful to them too.

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2 Responses to Oh mercy

  1. Mark Seguin says:

    Luving going back over a book that I thoroughly enjoyed learning from… The 12 steps…

  2. Andrew P. says:

    “There is no such thing as a Christian Pharisee.”

    So…Pharisee-ism is the unforgivable sin?

    I understand your enthusiasm, here, but you seem to be at least on the border of, in the words of one of my friends, “becoming a Pharisee about the Pharisees.” In the “prodigal son” parable, the elder brother was admonished, but not disinherited.

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