Mercy, not Sacrifice
Sometimes there are days when you just don't know what to do. You feel pressured by your parents, your boss, and even your church to do this or that. You don’t know what voice to listen to, and even if you pick one, there is no possible way you could ever live up to its standards. I know that I’ve felt that way about the Church and the Bible, and at times I still struggle with those feelings. It is the feeling of needing to be the person that God wants you to be, and the only way to do that is to live in strict obedience to every “thou shall” and “thou shalt not” that you’ve heard in Sunday School. The truth, however, is a bit more complex.
While looking through the Word, I came across a passage in Hosea that really stuck out to me. In chapter 6, verse 6, God speaks to the people of Judah saying “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” What could this mean? After all, sacrifice was a requirement of the law of Moses. Anyone caught violating such laws would have been killed for their disobedience.
Elsewhere, in Matthew 12, Jesus references this same passage when he is confronted by the Pharisees regarding his disciples’ actions on the Sabbath. When they began to pick heads of grain to eat, the Pharisees saw that as a violation of the law of rest on the Sabbath and demanded a response from their Master. Jesus’ response was brilliant. At no time did he condone breaking the law of Moses; rather he pointed the priests to both Scriptural and contemporary examples of those who violated the law for the sake of maintaining its spirit.
Sometimes we can get so bogged down in the letter of the Word and its law that we neglect to seek its Spirit. The truth is that none of us are blameless in terms of the law, nor could we ever be so by our own strength. We are miserable men and women, condemned by law and traditions that we cannot possibly obey, but “There is…now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
For those who live condemned lives, this sounds like a great deal, but what is the law of the Spirit of life? The law of the Spirit of life is love. The law of the Spirit of life is mercy, not sacrifice. The Spirit guides us and enables us to follow him, and he does not call for our head every time that we stumble. He does not want our token praise or our terrified or insincere sacrifices either; rather he wants our love. He wants us to be compelled by mercy.
To live in such love and mercy is freedom for the sinner. It is freedom for the guilty. It is freedom for the ashamed. It is freedom for those who just don’t feel good enough. This does not give us license to disobey the commands of God. Instead it gives us the freedom to obey in love and in mercy, moving in obedience to God because we want to and not just because we have to. Unfortunately, this is where many Christians and churches have gotten it wrong. We beat people over the heads with rules and regulations instead of showing them the love and mercy of God and how it compels us to obey.
If you live in guilt or in shame. If you feel that you are not good enough, take heart! We have been given mercy and love, so that we can be good enough, not by our own right, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. Pray for this mercy, and pray for this love, and God will grant it. Your problems will not go away overnight, but the love and mercy of God will lift you up and give you the strength to overcome.