Study Guide, July 15, 2018
Pastor Clay Olsen
With all of the turmoil and strife, conflict and misery that we have to deal with in our world, we thought we would all benefit from a healthy dose of ‘mercy’ in our study today. How does that sound to you? But since we mentioned ‘misery’, there is an term that is used in economics that they refer to as the ‘misery index’. Kind of odd terminology, but the misery index was created by an economist named Arthur Okun, a professor at Yale. It was based upon the sum of the nation’s annual inflation rate and unemployment rate to serve as a snapshot of the economy’s health. Later it was modified to include the sum of unemployment, inflation, bank lending rates, and subtracting the gross domestic product per capita. So the lower the number the less misery, and the higher the number the higher the misery. You say, okay…and where are you going with this? Well, oddly enough, this is how they then rate countries around the world on those lists you may have seen of most miserable or the happiest countries, based on this ‘misery index’.
As in, so this is what determines happiness? Have so many forgotten about King Solomon’s experiment already? King Solomon had the lowest ranking ever according to this misery index and so he should have been the happiest, but do you remember his conclusion? Eccl 1:2- “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” NASU His misery index may have been low, but his misery experience was off the charts! By the way, economists have estimated that King Solomon’s wealth in today’s dollars would figure to be around 2.2 trillion dollars! That’s right, not ‘billion’, but ‘trillion’. And a trillion is one thousand billions. So in reality, you can have 2.2 trillion dollars and still be high on the ‘misery index’. Just ask King Solomon.
Fortunately there is another index that really does accurately measure ‘happiness’…we can call it the ‘Mercy Index’. And this ‘Mercy Index’ is also an expanded index and based upon indicators like: the employment of God’s love, the inflation of grace, God’s bank lending of His righteousness, and the subtraction of judgment. And the possession of the sum of those indicators and then the level of our experience of them determines the height of where we are on this ‘Mercy Index’ and it’s accompanying happiness.
What do you think? Maybe we should send in this list of Biblical indicators to the researchers so that they can rework their misery and happiness tables for the countries and people of the world.
There is another list of indicators pointing out just how amazing God’s mercy really is in relation to our well being. Recall that King David wrote an entire song about it. We know it as Psalm 136. David was so overwhelmed about the immeasurable mercy of God that even though he wrote about it constantly throughout the Psalms, it’s like he just had to compose one song or Psalm that would be entirely dedicated to pointing out the infinite wonder of God’s mercy.
How about this…we’re not going to read the whole Psalm this way, but just to catch the weight of this, let’s read the first nine verses together. I’ll read the first part of the verse and then everyone can read the last part of each verse that says each time: “For His mercy endures forever.” And don’t think about that you’re just repeating it, but think about the height and depth of this revelation about God’s mercy…and then we’ll talk some more about it. So here we go:
“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
2 Oh, give thanks to the God of gods!
For His mercy endures forever.
3 Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords!
For His mercy endures forever:
4 To Him who alone does great wonders,
For His mercy endures forever;
5 To Him who by wisdom made the heavens,
For His mercy endures forever;
6 To Him who laid out the earth above the waters,
For His mercy endures forever;
7 To Him who made great lights,
For His mercy endures forever —
8 The sun to rule by day,
For His mercy endures forever;
9 The moon and stars to rule by night,
For His mercy endures forever.” NKJV
In every verse of its 26 verses God is declaring to us this amazing reality of His mercy and of the truth that it endures forever…that it will be central in our lives and in our world forever. And as we have often pointed out: When God says something once it is instantly all important to pay attention to it. But whenever God says something over and over it means that it is absolutely essential to listen to it, to learn all you can about it, and to live according to it everyday! In fact, this particular song that David wrote was one that the people were intended to sing every day…like as part of their devotions. Amazing, right? And really, what is the only antidote to our human nature of forgetting and taking for granted those things which are the most important to remember and to thank God for day by day? Yes, the antidote to forgetting crucial truths day after day is to remind ourselves of them day by day.
You remember that chorus that was popular when many of us were a lot younger….Day by Day? Remember the words? “Day by Day, Oh Dear Lord three things I pray: To see Thee more clearly, Love Thee more dearly, Follow Thee more nearly, Day by Day.” That’s a pretty good devotional focus, as well as a reminder of the essential things in life. Well, that’s part of our point; the fact that ‘God’s mercy endures forever’, and that we are to daily focus on that fact, are both essential for the sake of our well being and for our living well for God’s sake.
And certainly one of the essential things about God’s mercy is for us to better understand it and to then live in light of that understanding. First, remember that God’s mercy is the foundation of mankind’s salvation. God in His mercy does not give us what we do deserve, judgment; and in His grace, He gives us what we do not deserve, justification or He counts us righteous, all for the sake of Jesus Christ. So, Mercy is God’s unmerited response to our basic human need. Paul put it this way in Titus 3:4-7- “…When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of His grace He declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” NLT
We could just stop right here and meditate on our great salvation as explained by the Apostle…Why does God save us…because we deserve it? No, in Romans 6:23 Paul explained to us that the wages that we do deserve amount to eternal separation from God because of our sins. Our only hope of being saved is not in our merits, but in God’s mercy. Salvation is not based upon a merit system, but upon a ‘mercy system’. But although we are saved by the mercies of God, it is not automatic.
That’s one of the strange things about how people think concerning religious things. A high percentage of Americans still believe in Heaven, along with a corresponding high percentage that think they are going to Heaven. And that would be wonderful, if that same percentage actually represented spiritually born again people who have given their lives to Christ in repentance and received Him into their life as their Lord and Savior. But that is not something that very many people have done. The problem is that this high percentage have not repented toward God and trusted in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in order to be born again. They are just assuming that the merits of their life will save them, as though since they assume they are a pretty good person, naturally they will go to Heaven. Therefore, an extremely low percentage of Americans think they are in the condition of perishing and going to Hell. But until a person repents toward God and places their faith in Jesus Christ to save them, they are still perishing, and will perish for eternity. That’s what Jesus said to religious people who were counting on the merits of their life to make them right with God. He said, “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)
Remember, the ‘merit system’ of salvation – which every religion in the world naturally believes and is depending on for their salvation – cannot save anyone. Why? Because everyone is way past any chance of meriting or earning their salvation…they are already dead in their sins. That is one of the most foundational truths that everyone in the world needs to know. The Apostle Paul made it as clear as could be made. Eph 2:1-2- “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” 4,5- “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 (by grace you have been saved)” 8,9- “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” NASU
Think about what God has revealed here to the world. Every person on Earth is already dead…spiritually separated from God because of their sins, and cannot be reunited to God based upon their works. And yet, nearly every religion on Earth teaches people that they can achieve Heaven by their works. You may remember me telling of the temple districts in Bangkok, Thailand. In various places they have actual ‘Merit stations’, where people can gain extra merits to add to their hopes for their eternal existence. But again, people the world over believe they are going to Heaven based upon the merit system, when it is only based upon the mercy system: because of the mercy of God and by the grace of God through our faith in the merits of Jesus Christ alone. To insist that Heaven can be merited is a direct argument with God, a rejection of God’s Word, and a dishonoring of the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Basically the religions of the world are telling ‘spiritually dead people’ how to improve their lives…when what spiritually dead people need is LIFE itself. And spiritual life is only found in Jesus Christ. There is no spiritual life apart from being united to Jesus Christ. Spiritually dead people don’t have spiritual life until they are spiritually born again through receiving the Person and the life of Jesus Christ into their life. They are way past meriting Heaven. They are already dead in trespasses and sin. Their only hope of being delivered from the condemnation of Hell that they are already under is through repenting of the sins that killed their spirit and trusting in the mercy of Christ to be their personal Lord and Savior.
Now remember, we are to work for God out of our salvation, but no one can work for their salvation, because salvation is not a merit system, but a mercy system. And neither is it automatic, as so many tend to think of going to Heaven as being just sort of automatic. That is a dangerous way to think and live. Many presume on God’s mercy by treating it like one of those automatic doors at department or grocery stores; as you get near it, it just opens automatically. Many people think about Heaven and God’s mercy that way, like when they get close to the door of death that the door of Heaven will just automatically open for them.
Well, salvation is free, but we have to ask for it through calling out in repentance toward God and placing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. The door of the Kingdom of Heaven is only opened to those who, as Jesus said, have have been spiritually born again. And their names are recorded in Heaven in the Book of Life. Or, as Peter said, their place in Heaven is reserved for them. You have to have a reservation to go to Heaven. Again, salvation is a free gift, but you have to call ahead. Rom 10:9-10- “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.” 13- “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Holman Bible
That would be an interesting way to witness, wouldn’t it?…to ask someone: “Have you made your reservation in Heaven yet? Yeah, you have to call ahead. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
We have more wonders to talk about concerning the ‘mercies’ of God that endure forever. So we’ll go further on that next time. But one thing we each need to be sure about is that we are not depending on the merit system for our own salvation, but upon God’s mercy system. Be sure that you have called out to Jesus Christ, and in repentance and faith, that you have asked Jesus to forgive your sin and to unite His life with your spirit and cause you to be born again as His child forever. If you are not sure about that, we encourage you to call out to Him right away…even today.