You’ve just been caught doing something unlawful and harmful to others. You are stopped by the authorities. Time passes and you realize you will not be held accountable for your crimes. There will be no court case. There will be no punishment.
Would this make you more likely or less likely to continue your criminal activities?
My wife is reading a biography of US President Andrew Johnson. Johnson was VP under Lincoln and thus became president after Lincoln’s assassination. Johnson was roundly hated by both abolitionists and southerners. Fellow southerners saw him as a sell-out and abolitionists hated his obvious racist beliefs.
The biography noted that southerners were quite worried that they would face many northern reprisals for their actions during the Civil War. Not only were these reprisals not forthcoming, Johnson provided clemency to many of Confederate leadership. The biographer points out that when it was clear that individuals weren’t going to be held accountable, there seemed to be an increase in racial hatred and violence against freed slaves.
I know post Civil War politics was more complex than my simplistic statement above. And yet, consider this: can mercy embolden more sin? In fact, it may provide that temptation to sin more. Consider St. Paul’s comments in Romans 6. Do we sin more since we receive grace? Apparently, he felt the need to comment on this because we might be inclined to think that a free pass allows us to keep on going down the wrong road.
Just in case you think I’m suggesting we shouldn’t be merciful to sinners, I am NOT saying that. I’m grateful for unmerited favor in my life. I need more of it. However, let us be careful to recognize that mercy may produce in us something other than humble repentance.