Have you ever thought about what kind of things you take for granted? In most cases, when you come to a stop sign, you stop, then look both ways. If there is a stop sign to your right or left and a car is approaching, you go ahead and pull through the intersection. Right? You just assumed that the approaching car was going to stop at that stop sign. You are trading on the obedience of the other driver to stop. Or, when you sit down to watch TV, you click the button on the remote and expect the television to come on. In a sense you are trading on the technology of that TV and remote. “Trading on” can mean roughly the same as “take for granted”.
In the same manner, many Christians trade on mercy. We choose to sin without much thought of the repercussions. In ways that we cannot even know, God graciously extends His mercy to all people every moment of every day. For example, we all slept through the night without consciously remembering to breathe. We woke up, and most likely didn’t give a lot of thought to the miracle that we are awake. We walk throughout our homes, breathing, blinking our eyes, sometimes coughing or sneezing. We have coffee, eat breakfast, read the paper (or hopefully the Bible). That’s only the first few minutes of the day. During that time, how many sins have been committed? Thoughts, reactions, deeds not done in faith, etc…Yet, God has said that He would punish sin. The wages of sin is death… (Rom. 6:23). In those moments we are trading on mercy.
Well, how do we get to this point? It’s easy for us to get here: we relish in the promises of God, and choose to ignore the wrath of God. It’s not new. It was happening throughout the Old Testament as well. Consider God’s commands in the Garden of Eden:
“from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die (Gen. 2:17).
One command, one result. What happened? Eve, then Adam ate from the tree. Then what happened? There are many different opinions about what actually happened, but for our argument, they didn’t die physically. In a very real way, God showed them mercy. He had every right to exterminate mankind from the face of the earth, but He didn’t. Or what about King David? He committed adultery and murder, but God showed him mercy by allowing him to live. We could list many more examples of sinners who seemingly go unpunished in the Old Testament.
Now consider Uzzah, the Kohathite. God required that the Ark of the Covenant be carried a very specific way. It had rings on each side where poles were inserted and used to hoist the ark, and it could only be carried by the sons of Kohath (see Exodus 25 and Numbers 3 & 4). However, in II Samuel 6, we have the Ark being brought to Jerusalem on a cart! As they came to a particular location, Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark on the cart. The text says, that the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah for his error and God killed him. God had every right to exterminate Uzzah due to his disobedience in handling the Ark– and He exercised that right! Here again, we could list many examples of sinners who receive God’s immediate wrath (i.e. Lot’s wife, the prophets of Baal, the children who mocked Elisha, and so on).
What about the New Testament? Are there examples of God’s immediate retribution on sinners? Remember Annanias and Sapphira? They were struck down immediately for their deceit. Admittedly, there are fewer of these examples in the New Testament. In fact, there are countless examples of sinners receiving mercy. Herein lies the problem. We are used to receiving mercy. We read about the wretched apostles, the pathetic disciples, the pagan Herods and Pilates – all of whom received abundant mercy at the hands of God (at least in this life). We forget that God is perfectly justified to wipe out every person from the earth! No one has the right to question God about how He chooses to deal with His creation.
Yes, we trade on God’s mercy. We abuse His grace. We take them for granted when we sin because we are used to seeing God deal mercifully with sinners. However, neither mercy nor grace are licenses to do whatever we want. God’s mercy and grace are extended to all men everywhere so that they may repent and come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ! The tragedy is that we don’t take it seriously. We think of eternity as “down the road”, not imminent!
Non-believers trade on this mercy to a greater extend than believers. They are one breath away from eternal damnation. Yet, they continue in their rebellion without regard for Christ and the Cross. Believers trade on it as well. Our sins have been forgiven. We received mercy to a degree that’s incomprehensible. Yet, we go throughout our day without being thankful for another breath, another meal, another good night sleep, another cough or sneeze to protect our bodies, another ____________ (you fill in the blank). God’s mercy is not something to wink at or take for granted. It comes to us at great cost to Him. Let’s stop trading on the mercy of God. Let’s be about the business of guiding sinners to repentance and being thankful for what we have received. (1 Cor. 4:7b)