Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement

James says, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13, NASB, ESV). Let’s meditate upon this beautiful sentence, just three words in Greek.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. Oh, what terrible wrath this wicked world deserves—for its murders, thefts, slanders, adulteries! But even if someone has avoided these, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:8- 12). Without exception, every person falls short of God’s will, and as a result all are justly condemned by a holy God. The “wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23), wages we all have earned.

Judgment is ordained. “The present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). Judgment will be terrifying. “God is the Judge ... a cup is in the hand of the Lord and the wine foams ... all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs” (Psalm 95:7-8, Isaiah 13:6-13). The outcome of this judgment is permanent (Revelation 20:11-15). Judgment is coming quickly (Hebrews 9:27).

God’s judgment may be celebrated (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, Revelation 18:20). The wrath of God is a necessary expression of God’s holy and benevolent nature. A God who does not judge is impotent and cannot keep His promise to right the wrongs perpetrated in His creation. A God who does not judge is unloving and presides over a world where wrongs are not avenged, where there is no justice. Evil prevails in the world today, but God in His judgment will soon vanquish evil, unto His glory and praise. Judgment is how we finally arrive at a world without the mournful consequences of sin, free of crime and violence and fraud.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. Mercy does not triumph over judgment by preventing judgment from occurring. God’s mercy allows people to be spared from judgment. Mercy is God’s desire for every person (1 Timothy 2:4), though the sad reality is that the free gift of God’s mercy and salvation may be rejected.

Mercy is obtained in Christ! Judgment is not the fate of those who are clothed in Christ. “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Judgment is what every person deserves; it is only by the mercy of God that anyone is spared. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Law-keeping does not triumph over judgment, for no one can achieve sinless perfection. Good behavior has much worth and is demanded of every believer. But if we could save ourselves by our works—say, by doing many more good works than bad works—then Christ died needlessly. Cornelius was a very good man, and yet he needed to respond to the gospel to obtain the free gift of salvation (Acts 10:4). Probably more “good men” will be lost on the judgment day than “bad men,” for they trust in themselves and therefore do not seek the salvation found only in Christ (Titus 3:4-7).

The passage of time does not triumph over judgment, for sin creates a stain which must be addressed eventually! Long after the sting of failure has faded from our minds, there will be an accounting (Revelation 20:11-13). Think of the untold centuries that pass; yet the weight of sin is there, waiting to be accounted for! For example, David committed adultery and murder in 2 Samuel 11. David thought he hadn’t been caught. David probably thought his sin was behind him. When Nathan showed up in 2 Samuel 12 to reveal God’s judgment, it had been long enough that David wasn’t on the lookout for such obvious irony. Later, David obtained mercy.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. It’s not just that mercy edges out judgment or squeaks by judgment. The word “triumphs over” is katakauchatai, from a root meaning “to boast.” It is found two other places in the Bible, where it is translated “be arrogant against” (Romans 11:18 and James 3:14). That’s why the old KJV translates James 2:13, “Mercy rejoices against judgment,” trying to put a positive spin on that which is ugly in most contexts. It’s like a victorious ball team taunting the losers. The Roman generals would lead defeated opponents to Rome to be shown off in a parade of shame which was called a “triumph,” then to be sold into slavery or publicly executed.

Here and now, mercy triumphs over judgment because provides for peaceful human interactions (Matthew 18:21-35). If I don’t show mercy like God shows mercy, I can expect to be judged in full (Matthew 6:14-15)!

Mercy places the Christian in a place of victory over Satan and sin. A Christian does not taunt the lost, but reaches down to share news of the gospel, and elevate the lost to share in the triumph of mercy. And when that day of triumph comes, and we take a victory lap against the spiritual forces of darkness, we will cast our crowns of victory before God’s throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11), for it is God who leads us in victory.

-John Guzzetta