“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” Psalm 51:1

David knows that God is merciful.  You will never begin to change until you discover the mercy of God.  Think about the prodigal son.  He has real guilt.  He has lost his family’s trust, wasted the resources given to him and disgraced the family.  Finally, he comes to the end of his rope.

The beginnings of repentance

“He came to his senses.” Luke 15:17 

The prodigal suddenly realized that the whole direction of his life was wrong.  He had not thought this before.  Although he had real guilt, he had not felt it.  Life had been full.  But now he comes to his senses, he moves into the position of feeling and owning true guilt.  That’s healthy.  But God never wants us to stay there.

Then he says, “I will set out and go back to my father” (Luke 15:18).  Why did he decide to go back?  He had a sense that if he went back he would be received.  No matter how much the prodigal son’s conscience may be stung, he will keep on running, unless he also has some assurance that he will be received if he decides to go back home.

The prodigal needs the awareness of his misery to make him want to return home and he needs the assurance of a welcome to give him the confidence to return home.  Put these two together and you have the beginnings of the movement we call repentance. 

Sinners drawn to mercy

“Perhaps he will make me one of his hired servants.”  Luke 15:19

If the prodigal son reckoned that his father’s primary interest was justice, he would never have gone home.  If he reckoned that home would mean a prolonged investigation and years of continued tension, he would have kept running.  But he thinks about his Father, and even after what he’s done, he has the hope of mercy.  Sinners run from justice, but they’re drawn to mercy.

We have much to learn from how God deals with us.  If there are people you love who are running from you, think about this:  Do they think that your primary interest is justice or mercy?

If you want to see change and reconciliation, find a way to make it clear that if they choose to turn there will be a welcome.

Justice and mercy

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…” 1 Peter 2:24

The sense of sin without the knowledge of mercy keeps a man running.  But there is a God in heaven who is big in mercy and He doesn’t avoid justice.  All our sins have serious consequences.  That’s why Christ came into the world.

God became man in Christ and he said, “I will bear the consequences of your sin in my own body.”  The mystery of the Gospel is that God laid our sins upon his Son.  God took our sins upon Himself and said, “I will not pursue justice with you; I will hold your sin against my Son.”  God poured out justice on Christ at the cross, so that with absolute justice He could receive all who are in Christ with mercy.

This LifeKey based on the message “Get the Right Treatment,” by Pastor Colin S. Smith, on October 4, 1998, from the series “Changing Direction.”

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Colin currently serves as Senior Pastor of the The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He is committed to preaching the Bible in a way that nourishes the soul by directing attention to Jesus Christ.