Mercy as a Path to Salvation


Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. 

For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matt 9:13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Asking for mercy and offering mercy both evoke tension with God because we prefer not to shine a light on our own sin or the sin of others. In dealing with our own sin, Jesus cites the same verse from the Prophet Hosea twice after the Fifth Beatitude (Matt 9:13, 12:7): For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos 6:6) Pagan worship attempts to manipulate the gods with sacrifices, which today can take the form of offerings, overt righteousness, prayers, church attendance, or XYZ actions done, not out of thanksgiving, but out of a desire to manipulate God.

An important lesson on mercy shows up the story of the Good Samaritan when a lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). After telling the story, Jesus asks,“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36), substituting the question—“who proved to be a neighbor”—for the lawyer’s question—“who is my neighbor”—and eliciting the lawyer’s response—“The one who showed him mercy.” (Luke 10:37) Notice how the story started out talking about neighborly love, but ended up talking about mercy? By turning a direct object (neighbor) into a verb (to be a neighbor) Jesus redirects the lawyer’s question from who can be excluded as a neighbor to how we can become a better neighbor.

Mercy is a fitting focus of the story of the Good Samaritan because Jews hated Samaritans. The Samaritan had to overcome prejudice (show mercy) in order to show love to the man left for dead. In the same way, we experience God’s love through his mercy, as in this verse: The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Exod 34:6) Notice that this verse includes both mercy and love, but mercy comes first.

James concludes much the same from God’s attributes when he observes: For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (Jas 2:13) Here James has restated Jesus’ Beatitude in the negative—it is a curse to be judged without mercy. Judgment requires truth, which—like love—follows mercy on the list of God’s attributes.

The link between judgment and mercy points us back to the atoning work of Christ, as the Apostle Peter observed:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet 1:3-5)

The path to salvation through Christ is by way of his mercy.

Mercy as a Path to Salvation

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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