Thank God there are no sentencing guidelines for saved sinners.
I have had the honor and privilege of practicing civil law for thirty-three years. For obvious reasons, one of my favorite passages of the New Testament is Titus 3:12-13, when Paul is not only asking Titus to meet him at Nicopolis, but also to send Zenas, the lawyer, and see that he lacks nothing. This is the only mention of Zenas in the New Testament. I expect, however, Zenas’s experience with his clients has been much the same as mine. Clients, when they are right, demand justice. When they are wrong, they hope for mercy.
Detrimental Effects of Mandatory Minimum Sentences
In life’s courtroom, however, all of us fall short. I recently read a book that a dear friend, one of my law school professors, recommended to me. The book dealt with something I do not deal with in my practice, criminal sentencing guidelines. I expect he sent it to me to read because he knows that I regularly work with teenagers through coaching a high school debate team. The book revealed in terrifying detail the consequences of mandatory minimum sentences and the very limited ability of judges to be able to depart from those guidelines. Those guidelines were the result of a political reform movement designed to bring predictability and equality to the way judges impose criminal sentences. For politicians, it is both easy and strategic to be hard on crime. After all, criminals are unpopular, and judges are limited by their code of ethics from speaking out on political matters or responding to publicity criticizing their actions. As a result of sentencing guidelines, judges are limited in exercising their judicial discretion to be merciful.
God’s Unlimited, Sovereign Mercy
God’s power to render mercy, however, is not bound by those same limitations; He is completely sovereign. For saved sinners, there are clearly consequences to our sins both for ourselves and others. Our ultimate fate is secure in God’s mercy; none of us could bear the judgment for what we deserve. For instance, in the Bible the Apostle Paul describes himself as a violent man who persecuted Christians (I Timothy 1:12-17). Years before he wrote the letter to Timothy, he was traveling to Damascus on a mission to have more believers arrested, when Jesus spoke to him, causing Paul to lose his sight. You can imagine Paul’s fear. Now imagine his relief when his sight was restored three days later. Thankfully for Paul, Jesus wanted to make an example to show how a life gone wrong could be turned around dramatically. Paul expressed his thankfulness for receiving mercy and grace through Christ’s love. Mercy is a beautiful word. It is defined as: “compassion shown by one who is in power to another who has no right to expect to receive kindness.” Paul acknowledged that the reason he received mercy, despite his past actions, was due to Jesus’s utmost patience.
We Don’t Receive the Penalty We Deserve
I know that I do not want eternal justice rendered to me for my deeds. Even in my practice, which does not involve criminal law, I have many times heard a judge explain sadly that he wished that he could do more. The implication of that statement is that the judge would prefer to grant mercy rather than justice, but was constrained to render judgment in accordance with the law. Jesus’s sacrifice means that those who seek forgiveness and acknowledge Him, no matter their sins, receive mercy. How thankful we should be that we do not face a harsh eternal sentence according to the world’s guidelines for our sins.
Not only should we be thankful for God’s mercy, but Jesus also calls upon us to be merciful. In Luke 6:33-37, Jesus reminds us that it is easy for us to do good for those who are good to us. Our calling, however, is to be imitators of Jesus. We should show mercy and grant forgiveness to those who have sinned against us, just as we receive His mercy and forgiveness.
"Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven;"Luke 6:37