Paul refers to God's actions on behalf of his people as 'the mercies of God'. Many aspects of salvation are covered by this description. Here are four that are prominent in the previous chapters of Romans.
The first is the status of justification in which we are regarded as righteous in the sight of God. Two elements were necessary for this, and remember justification is an expression of divine mercy as well as of his justice. In his mercy, God provided us with what we needed but could not perform – a life of perfect obedience and the payment due because of our disobedience. Jesus provided both by his perfect life and his atoning death. Our gratitude for them should be accompanied by the realisation that they express mercy for the undeserving and the unable.
The second is the ongoing work of sanctification in which each believer is being changed into the image of Jesus. While it is essential that we use the means of grace and express dedication to the process, the change does not happen merely because we are very dedicated. Instead progress is made because of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Our lack of dedication can hinder the process, yet even it becomes a feature that is changed by his power over time. When we examine ourselves and deduce that we are not what we were, we should thank God for the many ways he has shown us mercy in our sanctification. We read about examples of his mercy in the Bible in the lives of his people.
The third expression of divine mercy concerns the final state of affairs after Jesus returns and the whole creation enters into the glory of the children of God. It is beyond our ability to grasp what life will be like there, but we can say that our presence there will be undeserved. The individual glory that will be given to God’s people will be far above what they deserve, even of the best of them. Writing in another letter, Paul refers to the appearance of an eminent believer at the judgement seat and says about him: ‘May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me – may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day! – and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus’ (2 Tim. 1:16-18). I don’t think Paul doubted that Onesiphorus would get a reward from God, but neither did he doubt that it would be an expression of mercy. When we stand on the doorstep into glory, we will say that it is all mercy, and when we have been there a billion years we will say that it is all mercy.
The fourth aspect of divine mercy is the future prosperity of the church that Paul outlined in Romans 11 in connection with the conversion of the Jewish race to their Messiah. He mentioned the prosperity that came to the Gentiles before Israel’s conversion and the prosperity that will come after it, and both periods of prosperity are due to his mercy, as will be the conversion of the Jews. As we look at the church today we say the same about it as our predecessors said about the church in their time, ‘Lord, have mercy on us!’ We speak about good churches and faithful churches, and we are thankful for them, but the reality is that the best if them is only a church constantly needing mercy.
Thinking about such spiritual blessings should cause us to dedicate ourselves to the Lord’s work. The fact that he has shown mercy and intends to show mercy should lead us to serve him out of gratitude for his kindness.