The definition of mercy: mer·cy ˈmərsē/ (noun)

  1. compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

Mercy is a very meek action based off of a strong emotion called compassion. Mercy is a meek action because the one showing mercy usually is in a position of power or authority. A person in a position of power would have to have the emotion of compassion to choose mercy. Compassion and love are very powerful when used for good. But I have been asking myself… is there a line in the sand? If a child, friend, family does something hurtful and destructive, how many times should mercy be extended? Then I asked… do we often confuse mercy with forgiveness?

How do we know the difference between forgiveness and mercy? Here is how we know: Forgiveness is done by the party that was wronged. If you have NOT been the one wronged, and you are in a position of power to punish, then you are taking about mercy. We are always required to forgive, but that is not said about mercy. Forgiveness has no end, but Mercy and Justice have boundaries.

Obviously we forgive as often as we need to, because the giver benefits from forgiving. I can forgive wrong doing against me over and over. But if forgiveness is different than mercy, how many times to we grant mercy? If in a position of power to choose, how do we know when to show mercy? What are the boundaries of mercy?

Forgiveness has no stipulations, but I found that mercy does.

I understood the balance of mercy and justice when I realized what the  stipulation was, that is the key. Mercy and justice have to be kept in a “check and balance” between each other. Forgiveness is limitless, but mercy is dependent on conditions of repentance. When mercy’s condition is not met, then justice steps in and thus the balance is kept.

Alma 42:22 “But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.”

In several other places we see that mercy is attached to repentance, if there is no repentance justice and the law step in.

  • D&C 61:2  “….for I, the Lord, forgive sins, and am merciful unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts;”

  • Ether 11:8 “And the people began to repent of their iniquity; and inasmuch as they did the Lord did have mercy on them.”

  • Alma 42:24 “For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.”

The reason mercy is connected to repentance is because it has to play nice with justice. “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:25) Both mercy and justice can and should still be done with the emotion of compassion. If in a position of power to punish or do harm, you first check to see if this is mercy’s jurisdiction or justices.  The qualifying factor for mercy to be extended is repentance. Now we need to talk about mercy’s companion and condition- Repentance.

What does Repentance look like?

Since mercy is connected to repentance, for mercy to fulfill its claim that it has on a person, we need to be able to know and recognize what repentance is and looks like.  John the baptist taught extensively on this subject:

Matthew 3:8 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:”

The picture behind what John describes as “vipers fleeing” is when there is a brush fire, or when a farmer burns the stubble from his field, any snakes in the grass would escape ahead of the flames. But as soon as they were safe, they would resume their subtle, crooked, poisonous ways, because their nature as snakes had not been changed. They were just trying to save their skins so that they could go on with their snake-in-the-grass like ways. This is what a “false repentance” look like.

There is such a thing as false repentance

If a person is false repentant, he denies or excuses or justifies the sinfulness of his own heart. False repentance is OUTWARD not INWARD where it should be. It is about the intent of the heart. In religious terms: Baptism is the first fruit of repentance, but can someone molest a child and go get baptized that night and be forgiven? No. Repentance does not begin and end there and this is why:

Even though a person may go through the outward ritual of a water baptism, they need to examine their heart. Were they truly repentant toward God for their personal sins or were they just following the religious fad? Are they doing it for show? In the same way, false repentance is just outward and oriented toward SELF, not geared toward God. He has not faced the corruption of his HEART before God. He does not cry out to God for a new heart that will hate sin and love righteousness.

For example: The falsely repentant person may momentarily fear God’s judgment and “receive Christ.” Like Esau, he may regret, even with tears, that he has lost his birthright. Like Judas, he may feel badly that he has betrayed the Son of God for a few pieces of silver. This repentance is just superficial and outward, and not a matter of the heart. This is good lesson to be aware of. Mercy is not to be extended if it is a false repentant person, because the condition of mercy has not been met. If a person is truly repentant, you will see the fruits of repentance follow. (experts used from this great article here

What does this “fruit meet for repentance” that John spoke of- look like in a person that is repentant?

Those who are truly repentant will show signs and bring forth the fruit of repentance, but fruit takes time to ripen. Is is not just tears and baptism in the moment. You must give the person time to show the fruits of their repentance.

1. Confessing of the sin. Confessing is a automatic part of repentance. To who the person needs to confess is not a set answer, it would be to anyone that their sin has affected/influenced/touched or harmed. Confessing is ALL encompassing. You can not confess only partially and call it true repentance. Otherwise, this is called lying and deceiving. The person must confess in as whole. How can you call someone repentant if they only take credit for part? It is key here to note if a person confessed BEOFRE they got caught. If after being caught compels them to confess then transparency is key. But like baptism, confession can not stand alone and must be accompanied by all the fruits of repentance, both inward and outward.

2. Humility. It takes a humble person to look at themselves and see their wrong doings and OWN up to them. “I am sorry” statement is not enough, but a “I am sorry for…WHAT?” this what you are looking for. They must be able to identify and recognize what it is they did wrong. This way understanding steps in to help in the process of not doing it again. It takes humility to seek forgiveness. They are not resentful but take full accountability for their actions and welcome it no matter how painful.

3. A zealousness or urgency to correct. When a person truly feels sorrow and is repentant there is an urgency that comes to correct what you have done. We have a willingness and eagerness to make amends. We will do whatever it takes to make things right and to demonstrate we have changed. You feel the injury you have caused and you feel compelled to fix it as best as you can, keeping in mind to honor the agency of those involved.

4. Publishing and teaching. This is paramount and part of the pattern because you WANT to help and prevent others from making the mistake. Out of compassion you want to serve and help others understand what you have learned from making your mistakes. This stops the destruction from continuing in your family, with your children and friends. The lessons from your mistakes then become your OBLIGATION and RESPONSIBILITY to teach and warn to others. This is a main part of penitence to those who are truly repentant.

5. The change of heart. The repentant person will change into a better version of themselves. This is the part where “not doing it again” comes into play. This is also called forsaking your sins. If you receive this mighty change of heart, this ensures that you wont do it again. This change of heart only comes through a higher power than ourselves. The person then receives the fruits of the Spirit, those being:

love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. (Galatians 5:22-24)

Baptism can not stand alone. Confession even if was everyday can not stand alone. When you have all of these fruits together inward and outward, and you see the change, that is when you know someone is truly repentant.

Here is the pattern set forth by several others:

Mosiah 27:35 “And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.”

Just as a tree bears fruit according to its nature…

So the truly repentant soul begins to bear fruit according to this new nature, fruit that pleases God and is observed by others. Those who have truly repented before God have confessed their sin and their need for a Savior. Thus true repentance recognizes the sinfulness of my heart and realizes that I am powerless to correct the situation because of the weakness and corruption of my flesh. So I cry out to God for a new heart, and He graciously provides what I cannot do. He imparts a new nature to me that loves righteousness and longs to obey Him.

“It ought to be observed, that good works are called fruits of repentance: for repentance is an inward matter, which has its seat in the heart and soul, but afterwards yields outward fruits in a change of life.”

When there is no repentance, that is when forgiveness steps in. The forgiveness comes from those that were wronged, to free and heal them. This too is in itself an act of mercy. For the one doing wrong and the persons wronged. But this does not mean a voice of warning cannot be sounded. Mercy can not be extended with out true repentance, and if repentance is not there, then justice takes over.  Justice is not robbed. Mercy is still fulfilled. We actually do not have to decide anything, we do not have to decide to give mercy or give justice! All we have to do is discern if there is true repentance or not and then let the scales tip by themselves. The statements still stands true: “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20)

Mosiah 26:29 “Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.”

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