“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6b, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV). This is the way in which God described Himself when He met Moses on Mount Sinai to renew the covenant with him and Israel that the latter had broken by making a golden calf and worshipping and sacrificing to it. David describes God in the same way in Psalm 86:15 and 103:8. The description refers to three aspects of God’s goodness–mercy, grace, and patience.
Yesterday my family and I read in our after breakfast Bible reading time the section on those three attributes of God in Chapter 12, “The Character of God: ‘Communicable’ Attributes (Part 1),” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). Here for each I’ll define it, give some Bible verses referring to it, and suggest how we can imitate it in our lives.
Mercy as an aspect of God’s goodness is His compassion for and kindness to those who have offended Him. For example, when David offended God by taking a census of the people and asked for God’s forgiveness, God offered him through the prophet Gad a choice of punishments–famine, sword, or pestilence. David replied, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of men” (2 Samuel 24:14), thus recognizing the mercy of God.
The Bible often refers to mercy when people are in misery or distress. For example, blind Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus asked him what he wanted Jesus to do for him, he asked for recovery of his sight, and Jesus restored his sight. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to do the same when we need help, saying, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Paul encouraged the Corinthians to imitate God’s mercy in their dealings with others, saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Grace as an aspect of God’s goodness is His freely given and undeserved favour to and love for mankind. God told Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19b; quoted in Romans 9:15).
Paul stresses that salvation is by grace, not by works. For example, he writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24) and “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). He also observes that the living of the Christian life is a result of God’s grace, saying, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10a).
Patience as an aspect of God’s goodness is His withholding of punishment on those who sin. The Old Testament often describes God as “slow to anger” (such as in Exodus 34:6, quoted above). Paul refers to God’s “kindness and forbearance and patience” observing that it “is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
Some Bible verses encouraging us to imitate God’s patience are:
– “But the fruit of the Spirit is…patience…” (Galatians 5:2).
– “I therefore…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2).
– “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).