On the Meaning of Mercy-Into the Presence
1 John1:7-2:2 shows us the dynamic interconnectedness between our association with Jesus (walking in the Light), confessing our sin, being cleansed by his blood, His propitiary sacrifice (mercy), and His Advocacy on our behalf all of which, like a mirror, reflect facets of God’s mercy.
We learned last time from Leviticus and the elaborate sacrificial system described there that in order to enter His Presence the people, especially the High Priest, must be made clean from all things unholy. This required the shedding of blood, a great deal of blood.
The New Testament affirms this, only now it is no longer by sacrificing animals but by the blood of Jesus who is both Sacrifice and High Priest for those who believe. So, for example, 1 John 1:7 and 2:2 tells us we are cleansed by His blood not only from sin but also from the unrighteousness that breeds it. Cleansing by His blood, confession and forgiveness of sin take us back to the idea of ‘mercy’ we encountered in Luke 15:18 when the Publican cried out, “Have mercy upon me, a/the sinner.”
Cleansing by His blood is contingent on fulfilling two conditions: walking in the light and confessing our sin. Although John doesn’t give us a lot of detail about what ‘walking in the light” is, his Gospel suggests that, at the very least, it is fully embracing the Light that is Life (John 1:4) i.e. the Incarnate Word. We get another clue from this letter when he says that hating one’s brother is to be in darkness so it seems that loving one’s brother would place us in the Light, which makes sense. At any rate, ‘walking in the Light’ is a case of association; i.e. as long as we are in His Light, which is tantamount to walking with Him, His blood provides continuous cleansing.
The other condition for cleansing is confession of sin. The term ‘confess’ ὁμολογεῖν is from ὁμός, one and the same, and λέγω, to say. It’s a verb in the present tense so the phrase could read “if we keep on continuously confessing our sins…” And note that sin is plural suggesting we all have much to account for.
Because part of this verb means “to say’ (λογεῖν) it can be argued that we are to speak the confession. There is something about actually saying the sin that makes it more real, tangible, something that we actually did in thought, word, or deed and not just an abstract memory. Saying out loud “Father forgive me for lying to my boss today” seems more substantial than just thinking “Father forgive my sins today”. It’s like the difference between using a credit card and paying with cash. When I pay with cash the value of the money is much more real to me. Handing over a $100 bill is way different from swiping a card through a machine. With a credit card, it’s more abstract and because real money isn’t exchanged, the financial impact of the purchase remains more remote-until the end of the month when the bill comes.
Once confession is made, we are forgiven; our sin is “sent away” and not heard from again, at least on God’s part. Forgiveness is the way of reconciliation because the barrier, sin, is done away with, removed. The forgiven sinner, then, not only avoids God’ wrath but now is embraced by His merciful loving-kindness.
But even then residual things hang on the periphery of our hearts, like guilt, fear, anxiety, a sense of failure and disappointment, especially for those who are particularly tender-hearted and keenly aware of their shortcomings. These feelings must be countered by the truth that Christ is our Advocate, our defender. The word ‘advocate’ is from parakletos which is used in John’s Gospel concerning the ministry of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. John teaches us that one of the activities of the Comforter is to testify about and reveal Jesus to the believer. Here, Jesus our Advocate testifies, appeals our case before the Father, a testimony based on His sacrifice so that mercy may be granted.
Placing this idea of Advocacy along with what the writer of Hebrews says of Jesus that He is our merciful High Priest and makes propitiation (hilaskesthai, part of theword group from hilaskomai in Luke 15:18) for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17) an even more incredible picture of our Lord emerges. ‘Merciful’ is from eleoo and means sympathy, pity, compassion and the like. You will remember in the first article we learned that the English word ‘mercy’ is translated from different Greek words. This is our first example and eleoo is the most common word for ‘mercy’ in the New Testament. I also pointed out that, in my opinion, all ‘mercy’ no matter the word used depends upon propitiation (hilaskomai). I think Heb. 2:17 supports that opinion. Therefore, Jesus is a merciful High Priest because He is also the propitiation for our sins so the connection between mercy as propitiation and mercy accompanied by propitiation is clear.
What all this means is that when we sin, and we will, there is an incredible, eternally binding recourse for us that is grounded in eternity and is portrayed, at least in part, by the word mercy. It should be becoming clear that this word is rich in meaning almost beyond finding out, its power almost unimaginable, and its efficacy for us reaching the heavens in God’s very presence. It is no small thing to say “Lord have mercy on me.”
In our next installment, we will look at the Book of Hebrews where mercy is implicitly prominent when we go into the Presence.
One final note since we won’t be visiting 1 John again in this series, I think it’s important to point out the constant use of “if… then” conditional claims throughout this letter. Some of you will recognize this argument form as modus ponens and is usually expressed symbolically as
If P, then Q
Here’s how it works: if the antecedent P is affirmed (the condition met), then the conclusion Q must follow when it is a valid argument; i.e. the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises and can’t be any other way. So 1 John 1:7. “If we walk in the light… then we are cleansed by His blood” or 1 John 1:9; “If we confess… He forgives”. “Walking in the light” is the condition for being “cleansed” and “confessing sin’ is the condition for being ‘forgiven’ and ‘cleansed’.
This might seem overly technical, but here’s the point: if the premises of a modus ponens argument are true and the argument valid, then we end up with a necessary truth. Since forgiveness of, and cleansing from, sin is exceedingly important and since we believe The Bible’s claims are true then what John sets before us are necessary truths, absolutes, no wiggle-room claims and, therefore we can, and should, have absolute confidence in their veracity. This is especially useful for those who argue that the Bible is illogical, incoherent and, otherwise untrustworthy.