Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Syriac Orthodox, Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Quad Centum (Issue 400) Souvenir Edition

Volume 7 No. 400 March 1, 2017
 

 Chapter 7: Grace n Mercy

The Meaning of Grace

What exactly is grace? It is simply God's free, undeserved, and unearned favor. It is a gift given by God not because we are worthy of it, but only because God, out of His great love, wants to give it. ...

The High Cost of Free Grace

Redeeming grace is free to us, but its cost to God is inestimable. ...

Everlasting Mercy

We serve an awesome God. He desires for us to live in hope and not in condemnation. His mercy surrounds us and His love blankets us. God wants to give us life in abundance. He does not desire for any to be destroyed. ...

God's Great Mercy

Because of His mercy, God desires to lift sinners out of their pitiful condition.

Excessive Mercy

Praise is the characteristic mark of one who has tasted the sweetness of the Lord and known his excessive mercy. Adoration is fruit of every encounter with the Holy Face of Christ. The Church is an assembly of sinners who have read the excessive mercy of the Heart of Christ on His Holy Face and, as a result, cannot stop singing, and cannot cease from adoring! ...

Being Merciful

God has promised us in Matthew 5:7 that we will receive mercy from Him if we are merciful to others. If we have received unlimited mercy from our loving God, if we have been lifted from our poor, sinful, wretched state to become citizens of heaven, how can we withhold mercy from others? ...

God's Mercy and Justice - Balance or Bust!

God's mercy and grace prepare us for us his Justice. But there is no justice if sin is unanswered, or injustice is not rectified. That is why we need both His grace and His mercy. Their purpose is to bring the needed changes so that we can be ready for the day when we shall see the Lord. ...

Chapter 7: Grace and Mercy

The Meaning of Grace

by John MacArthur

"The Lord, the Lord God, [is] compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth" (Exodus 34:6).

God's grace is His undeserved favor shown to sinners.

God's grace has always been a focus of praise for believers. Today's verse is quoted several times in the Psalms and elsewhere in Scripture (for example, Neh. 9:17, 31; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8). Paul is grateful for God's abundant grace in 1 Timothy 1:14, and John writes, "For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace" (John 1:16). Today some of our favorite hymns are "Amazing Grace," "Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord," and "Wonderful Grace of Jesus."

What exactly is grace? It is simply God's free, undeserved, and unearned favor. It is a gift given by God not because we are worthy of it, but only because God, out of His great love, wants to give it.

Grace is evident to Christians in two main ways. The first is electing, or saving, grace. God "has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Tim. 1:9). "By grace [we] have been saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8). This is God's grace to sinners, for "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom. 5:20).

Another grace in our lives is enabling, or sustaining, grace. We didn't just receive grace to be saved; we now live in grace. It is the grace of God that enables us to live the Christian life. When Paul asked that some debilitating "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7) be removed, the Lord told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (v. 9). Paul elsewhere says, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).

Remember, we have earned neither saving nor sustaining grace. Nothing we can do can make us worthy of one more bit of grace. God says, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious" (Ex. 33:19). This truth should make us all more grateful because He saved us and sustains us despite our sin. It should also make us humble because we have no worthiness to boast about (Eph. 2:9).

Suggestions for Prayer

Thank God for His grace in saving and sustaining you.

For Further Study

Read Genesis 9:8-19.
How did God extend grace to Noah and his family? What was the visible sign or symbol?

Source: Grace to You.org

The High Cost of Free Grace

by John MacArthur

"In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood"
(Eph. 1:7).

Redeeming grace is free to us, but its cost to God is inestimable.

Sin is not a serious issue to most people. Our culture flaunts and peddles it in countless forms. Even Christians who would never think of committing certain sins will often allow themselves to be entertained by them through television, movies, music, and other media.

We sometimes flirt with sin but God hates it. The price He paid to redeem us from it speaks of the seriousness with which He views it. After all, we "were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold . . . but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

In Scripture the shedding of blood refers to violent physical death - whether of a sacrificial animal or of Christ Himself. Sin is so serious that without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness of sin in God's sight (Heb. 9:22).

The sacrificial animals in the Old Testament pictured Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That's why John the Baptist called Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The Old Testament sacrifices were necessary but incomplete. Christ's sacrifice was perfect, complete, and once for all (Heb. 10:10). No further sacrifices are needed other than the "sacrifice of praise to God" for what He has done (Heb. 13:15) and our very lives in service to Him as "a living and holy sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1).

By His sacrifice Christ demonstrated not only God's hatred for sin, but also His great love for sinners. You could never redeem yourself, but Christ willingly paid the price with His own precious blood. He "gave Himself up for [you], an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma" (Eph. 5:2). His sacrifice was acceptable to the Father, so your redemption was paid in full. What magnanimous love and incredible grace!

Suggestions for Prayer

Worship God for His wonderful plan of salvation. Worship Christ for the enormous sacrifice He made on your behalf. Worship the Holy Spirit for applying Christ's sacrifice to your life and drawing you to Christ in saving faith. Ask God to help you guard your heart from flirting with sin. For Further Study

Read 2 Samuel 11.

What circumstances led to David's sin with Bathsheba? How did David attempt to cover his sin? How did David finally deal with his sin (see Ps. 51)?

Source: Grace to You.org

Everlasting Mercy
Scripture: 1 Samuel 7-9; Luke 9:18-36

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.
-  John 10:28-29

During my sophomore year of college, I took a class on religious literature. We studied a variety of poetry, sermons and even the Psalms. One piece of literature I remember most was written by Jonathan Edwards called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The professor told us that Edwards did not preach this sermon from memory but held his hand-written notes inches away from his glasses, straining to see the words in a dimly lit church. The intensity of the message moved the listeners so much that they crawled up the center aisle with hearts of repentance and remorse, longing to be saved. Jonathan Edwards is still known and quoted for the message he delivered that day.

I have seen a lot of play on words with Edwards' title like, "Sinners in the hands of a loving God." But the remix is not nearly as powerful or life changing as the original. We are all sinners held in God's hands. This God we serve is known as a consuming fire, all powerful and holy. If not for His mercy, we would all be consumed. If we understood who we really are, we could not get out of bed in the morning. God's mercy allows us to handle our own thoughts. We try to justify ourselves as we compare the extent of our sins with others. But the Book of Romans says that only Jesus can justify us. It is Jesus' justification that covers our sins, forgives our sins and blesses us despite our ability and extent to commit sin. Many Christians are walking around thinking that they have crucified their flesh, and that they are living a Spirit-filled life. They feel good about themselves because they do not think they are committing any of the top sins (murder, adultery, stealing). But they have no power; they just have their own rationalizations. God knows better because God sees the heart. If we really understood our sinfulness, we would be flat on our faces every day begging for forgiveness, understanding that God has every right to be angry.

We serve an awesome God. Praise God that He desires for us to live in hope and not in condemnation. His mercy surrounds us and His love blankets us. God wants to give us life in abundance. He does not desire for any to be destroyed. God desires to hold us up, not to push us down. If you are having thoughts that bring you away from God, that is condemnation. If you are having thoughts that are leading you towards the Lord—to be forgiven and restored—that is conviction.

God wants to show you His loving kindness and mercy. Turn to Jesus to be saved from your sins. Being in His hands is the safest place of all.

Source: Daily Disciples Devotional

God's Great Mercy

by John MacArthur

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
(1 Peter 1:3).

Because of His mercy, God desires to lift sinners out of their pitiful condition.

Several years ago I spent about a week in India. Each day I saw countless starving, diseased people with no home but a few square feet of filthy street. I could not help but feel compassion and pity on those people who lived in such misery.

In a spiritual sense, though, before God saved us, we were each even more pathetic than any beggar in India. Spiritually, we "were dead in [our] trespasses and sins . . . and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ" (Eph. 2:1, 3-5). God saw our wretched condition and was moved to do something about it.

How does mercy compare with grace? Mercy has respect to man's wretched, miserable condition; grace has respect to man's guilt, which has caused that condition. God gives us mercy to change our condition; He gives us grace to change our position. While grace takes us from guilt to acquittal, mercy takes us from misery to glory.

Doesn't it give you great joy to know that God not only removed your guilt but looked at you and had compassion? And He's not through giving us mercy: "The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). We can always "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

Suggestions for Prayer

Thank God for His great mercy, for the forgiveness and blessings you have as His child.

For Further Study

Luke 15:11-32 contains the well-known parable of the prodigal son, a moving illustration of God's loving compassion. What was the son's condition when he returned? What was his father's reaction? How does God respond to us when we turn to Him in repentance and humility?

Source: Grace to You.org

Excessive Mercy

by Fr. Mark

Gospel: John 8:1-11

Mercies New Every Morning

Today's Gospel almost did not make it into the canon of the Scriptures; it was a cause of consternation to certain Christians of the early Church. The gentle compassion of Jesus seemed excessive to them. His merciful attitude towards the woman caught in adultery seemed too liberal, too easy. In several early manuscripts, the passage was simply deleted from the text. But the mercy of the Lord Jesus is indeed excessive! "His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning" (Lam 3:22-23).

A Night Spent in Prayer

Our Lord has spent the night in prayer on the Mount of Olives (Jn 8:53). At daybreak, He descends from the Mount of Olives to the Temple precincts. The people come to Him, ordinary people, sinners of all sorts. In contrast to those who come to Jesus in order to hear his word, we see the scribes and Pharisees — the professionals of religion, the rigorists — who seek to entrap him. Their ears are open to catch Him in some theological inaccuracy or in some political faux-pas, but their hearts are closed to His excessive mercy.

The Sinner and the Savior

They bring to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. In spite of their deceptive and twisted motives, in bringing the woman to our Lord, the scribes and pharisees do a good thing. A sinner is brought to the Saviour, a lamb to the Shepherd, one bruised and ailing to the Physician. Out of the evil designs of the scribes and Pharisees, our Lord will bring a great good.

A Captive of Divine Mercy

There are diverse ways of being brought to Christ. The woman caught in adultery is the captive of the scribes and Pharisees; she will become the captive of Divine Mercy. Accustomed to being used by men, she will be used by them in their experiment with Jesus. She is the bait with which they will attempt to catch Jesus, and she is a well-chosen bait, because the mercy of Jesus is irresistibly attracted to the misery of sinners. She is humiliated. She is fearful. She is ashamed. She is forced to come into the presence of Jesus; she is pushed into His presence.

The Presence of Jesus

At times something very similar may happen in our own lives. We are dragged into the presence of Jesus as a result of circumstances that humiliate and terrify us: disappointment, betrayal, illness, failure, the loss of a loved one, or the jealousy, the rigorism, or the lust for power of another.

At other times, it is Jesus himself who seeks us out. He comes to us, like the shepherd in the wilderness. He comes in search of the lost sheep. "And when He has found it, He lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing" (Lk 15:4-5).

Saint Mary of Egypt

At still other moments in our lives, the decision to seek out the Lord Jesus Christ is our own. Wounded by the Word of God, pierced through by repentance, the Holy Spirit sets our feet on the path of return to Christ, that through Christ we may return to the loving embrace of the Father. This is the case of Saint Mary of Egypt, the notorious prostitute of Alexandria, celebrated in the Eastern Churches as the supreme model of Lenten repentance and of resurrection. So impressed was Abbot de Rancé by Saint Mary of Egypt, that he had her feastday inscribed in the calendar of La Grande Trappe.

Intervention of the Mother of God

You know her story. She was a glamorous harlot, a spectacularly public sinner, practicing her profession in the great city of Alexandria. Hearing of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, she boarded ship with the pilgrims, seducing them at sea, indulging in shameless debauchery, partying long and hard all the way to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, an invisible force keeps her from entering the church in which the Holy Cross was being shown to the people. From above the church door, the Mother of God gazes upon her from her holy icon, filling her with confidence in God's mercy. From on high, Mary hears a voice saying, "If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest." "Hearing this voice," she says, "and having faith that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God, 'O Lady, O Lady, do not forsake me.'" Mary crossed the Jordan, went into the desert where she lived in constant prayer and repentance, "clinging to God who saves all who turn to Him from faintheartedness and storms."

The Joy of Repentance

Years later, Mary was discovered by Father Zosimas, a monk of Palestine who had gone into the desert for the forty-day fast, according to the custom of his monastery. Her story has been told again and again, giving hope to all who are weak, to all who struggle, to all who seek to cross over - out of sin - into the pure joy of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross. The life of Saint Mary of Egypt is, in its own way, a homily on today's Gospel.

Sacramental Details

Let us return that Gospel: in it the details of Jesus' behavior are of the greatest importance. They are sacramental details; they reveal the thoughts of Jesus' Heart. First, Jesus refuses to look at the woman caught in adultery. He deliberately remains bent down, crouched close to the ground, tracing letters in the dust. Jesus has no need of seeing the woman's face in order to probe the depths of her soul.

With the Despised

By bending down, close to the ground, Jesus identifies Himself with her and with all who are downtrodden and despised. The words of the psalmist come to mind: "My soul lies in the dust; by your word revive me" (Ps 118:25). Jesus refuses to look at the woman, lest he add in any way to the crushing weight of her shame and guilt. Without fixing his gaze upon her, He is with her in her humiliation and anguish.

God Arose to Judge

When Jesus addresses himself to the scribes and Pharisees, however, the Gospel account makes a point of noting that He stood up. "And as they continued to ask him, he stood up" (Jn 8:7). Jesus stands to pronounce judgment. He stands to speak with authority. He stands to defend the sinner against the accusations of the self-righteous. The psalm says: "Thou, Thou alone strikest terror. Who shall stand when Thy anger is roused? Thou didst utter Thy sentence from the heavens; the earth in terror was still when God arose to judge, to save the humble of the earth" (Ps 75:8 10).

Indictment of the Accusers

Looking at the woman's accusers, Jesus says to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (Jn 8:7). These words are the echo of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: "Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye when there is a log in your own eye?" (Mt 7:3-4).

Great Misery and Great Mercy

Having spoken to the accusers, Jesus again bends down and continues to trace letters in the sand. He has nothing further to say to them. One by one, they go away, leaving Jesus alone with the woman. Saint Augustine says that, "great misery is left in the presence of great mercy." The Gospel makes a point of noting that now Jesus is bent down while the woman is standing. A resurrection has taken place! By lowering himself, Jesus "raises up those who are bowed down" (Ps 145:8). According to the Gospel, the woman has said nothing to Jesus up to this point. Nonetheless, the cry of her heart reached the Heart of Jesus. His mercy was moved by her misery.

O Wonderful Condescension

Then he looks up to speak to her. Jesus here is kneeling; the woman is standing. The humility of the Divine Mercy kneeling before sinners, pleading to be accepted! He who gives mercy and forgives sin makes Himself lower than the one who stands in need of mercy and forgiveness. O wonderful condescension! "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned thee? No one, sir, she replied. Neither do I condemn thee, said Jesus, go, and do not sin again" (Jn 8:10-11). Is there any harshness in the words of Jesus, any condemnation? Is there anything cutting, humiliating or belittling? There is nothing but gentleness - gentleness, and an excessive mercy.

Purification of the Memory

There is no need for us to live with the ghosts of the past, with the memory of past sins and troubles weighing heavily upon our hearts and preventing us from moving forward. If we have been brought to Jesus Christ by the circumstances of life; if, by God's grace, we have come to Jesus Christ; if Jesus Christ Himself has sought us out, placed us upon His shoulders and carried us home, then "there is no need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before" (Is 43:18). The excessive mercy of the Lord has swallowed up all our sins, leaving no trace of what was, and filling the present with the sound of his praise. "The people I have formed for myself will sing my praises" (Is 43:21.

Praise and Adoration

Praise is the characteristic mark of one who has tasted the sweetness of the Lord and known his excessive mercy. Adoration is fruit of every encounter with the Holy Face of Christ. The Church is an assembly of sinners who have read the excessive mercy of the Heart of Christ on His Holy Face and, as a result, cannot stop singing, and cannot cease from adoring! "Forget the past, then, and strain ahead for what is still to come"(Phil 3:13), the great and glorious Pasch of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Source: Vultus Christi
© 2013-2014 The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. All Rights Reserved.

Being Merciful

by John MacArthur

"'Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful'" (Luke 6:36).

Since we have received mercy from God, we are obligated to show mercy to those with physical or spiritual needs.

Jesus demonstrated His mercy many times as He went about healing people and casting out demons. Two blind men cried out, "'Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!' . . . And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight, and followed Him" (Matt. 20:30, 34). He was also deeply moved in spirit and wept when He saw the sorrow that Lazarus's death caused (John 11:33-36).

His greatest mercy was shown, though, to those with spiritual needs. Not only did He heal a paralytic, but He forgave his sins (Luke 5:18-25). He also prayed for His executioners, saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

We can show mercy by our physical acts. John says, "But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:17-18).

We must also show mercy spiritually. Because we have experienced God's mercy, we should have great concern for those who have not. We show spiritual mercy by proclaiming the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to the unsaved and by praying that God would show His mercy to them.

We also demonstrate spiritual mercy by lovingly confronting sinning Christians: "Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). Sinning Christians bring reproach on Christ and His church and will fall under God's discipline. In such cases it is wrong to say nothing and let the harm continue.

God has promised us in Matthew 5:7 that we will receive mercy from Him if we are merciful to others. If we have received unlimited mercy from our loving God, if we have been lifted from our poor, sinful, wretched state to become citizens of heaven, how can we withhold mercy from others?

Suggestions for Prayer

Pray that you would be sensitive to opportunities to show mercy today.

For Further Study

Read Matthew 23:37-39.

What was Jerusalem's condition in verse 37? How does that intensify the nature of Christ's compassion and mercy toward His people?

Source: Grace to You.org

God's Mercy and Justice - Balance or Bust!

by Msgr. Charles Pope

One of the signs of orthodoxy is the ability to hold competing truths in tension, realizing that they are there to balance each other. For example, on the one hand God is sovereign and omnipotent, but on the other we are free to say no to Him. Both of these are taught in Scripture. Our freedom mysteriously interacts with God's sovereignty and omnipotence, but how?

Heresy will not abide any tension and so it selects one truth while discarding others meant to balance or complete it. For example, is God punitive, or forgiving; is he insistent or patient? Too often we focus on one while downplaying or dropping the other. In some eras, the notion of a harsh, strict God was so emphasized that His mercy was all but lost. Today, the tendency is to stress His mercy and kindness while nearly dismissing His role as the sovereign Judge who will set things right by upholding the just and punishing the wicked.

A recent reading from the Letter to the Hebrews at daily Mass (Saturday of the First week of the Year) presents us with a balance. It speaks of two very different experiences of God, both of which are needed to balance each other.

The word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit,
joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.

Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
 (Heb 4:12-16).

The two parts of this passage are very different. The first uses somewhat violent imagery in describing how closely the Word of God examines us, exposing our hidden thoughts and actions. It speaks to God's justice, His passion to set things right. The emphasis is on the sobering and frightening truth that we will have to render an account to the Lord for every word, thought, and action, no matter how hidden. Jesus is our savior and brother, but He is also sovereign Lord and judge of the world. He is not to be trivialized, minimized, or domesticated. He is the Lord and we will have to answer to Him.

In contrast, the second half of the passage bids us to remember that we have a compassionate Lord, one who sympathizes with our weakness and offers us mercy, grace, and help. We are encouraged to approach the throne of grace. The emphasis here is on a merciful and kind Lord, ready to be approached and to give us every assistance we need in order to be saved.

So, notice the balance in this passage between God's justice and His mercy. Remember that both are necessary. God's mercy is needed now because there is a day of judgment. God is not going to stop being God. He is all-perfect and all-holy. He is the Truth Himself, the refulgent light of all glory. We cannot simply walk into His unveiled presence without first being prepared and purified. And thus He makes every help and grace available to us. He is good to us and patient with us. He is merciful and kind.

In this way, God's mercy and grace prepare us for us his Justice. But there is no justice if sin is unanswered, or injustice is not rectified. That is why we need both His grace and His mercy. Their purpose is to bring the needed changes so that we can be ready for the day when we shall see the Lord.

As a whole, the text therefore speaks of the Lord Jesus in tightly woven tapestry of darker and lighter themes. It requires careful balance.

Too easily in our times we set mercy and justice in opposition to each other. But where is mercy if justice is absent? Could the victims of genocide really be said to experience mercy if their unrepentant killers were ushered past them into the Kingdom of Heaven? Could Heaven even be Heaven if unrepentant sinners dwelled there? At some point, mercy demands that justice rightly separate what is stubbornly evil from what is good; that is why the balance of this passage is necessary. For now, there is a time of mercy and access to the throne of mercy, but there comes a day when justice requires a final answer and verdict. It is mercy that accompanies us to justice of the final judgement. Mercy and grace prepare us.

So, orthodoxy is in the balance. Both visions of the Lord in the reading from Hebrews above are accurate and necessary. To overemphasize or minimize one is to harm the other.

A mercy that would cancel the requirements of justice would not be mercy at all. It would leave us deformed and incomplete; it would mean that injustice would continue forever. Neither of these outcomes is merciful.

Further, a justice that did not rely on grace and mercy would not be justice at all. This is because without grace and mercy, we are dead in our sins; justice is unattainable.

So, balance is the stance of orthodoxy. We cannot ever hope to attain to the glory of God without both the justice and mercy of God.

Balance or bust!

Video

Source: Archdiocese of Washington

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