Remember American football? You might recall it – that sport with the oblong ball that’s kind of pointed on both ends? Many of us watched it avidly as recently as last February’s Super Bowl, but with all that’s gone on during the unprecedented months since, it seems like a distant memory. The recent NFL draft did give fans a measure of hope that, even with social distancing, we will again watch soccer-style kickers launching footballs toward the end zone sometime in the fall.
Maybe you’re not a football fan and couldn’t care less about when it starts up again.
But I mention it just to refer to the event that occurs before each game begins. No, I don’t mean when the marching band steps onto the field, or even when the national anthem is played. I’m thinking about the magic moment when the referee gathers captains from both teams for…the coin toss.
By way of review, the official has a special coin that he flips into the air. Captains from the visiting team shout “heads” or “tails,” and how the coin falls determines who kicks off and who gets the ball to begin the day’s action. We talk in terms of who “wins” the coin toss, even though it has little to do with the ultimate outcome of the game.
I bring it up because in the Scriptures we find kind of a “coin toss.” Except in this case, God is the coin flipper – and it’s win-win for all of His children.
This coin, as I envision it, says “Grace” on one side and “Mercy” on the other. Because as the Bible describes them, grace and mercy can be considered two sides of the same coin. Let me explain:
“Grace” in the Scriptures is defined as “unmerited favor.” We don’t deserve it, and we can’t earn it. Ephesians 2:8-9 explains, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” This tells us that grace is “receiving what we don’t deserve” – God’s favor.
Mercy, on the other hand, is “not receiving what we do deserve” – God’s wrath and eternal punishment. Titus 3:5 states, “[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” And 1 Corinthians 5:17 declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” The Lord has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. He’s made us born again, brand new in Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, God’s grace and His mercy both flow out of His love for us, undeserved and unconditional. Romans 5:8 puts it this way: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Question: How many sins had you committed by the time Jesus Christ died on the cross more than 2,000 years ago? Obviously, none. Yet this verse says “while we were still sinners,” He died for us (past tense). Unlike us, God’s isn’t restricted by the confines of time, so in Christ He could pay the just penalty for all sins, past and present and future.
I don’t know about you, but this truth this excites me and provides great assurance. Many centuries ago, before my great-great-great-great-great grandparents (and beyond that) were even born, Jesus was making atonement for sins I was yet to commit. His incomprehensible love was on display, and His grace and mercy were in action so that one day I could receive what I don’t deserve, and not receive what I do deserve. How can this be anything but good, incredibly good news?
Right now, no one knows for certain when football – college or pro – will resume. But one thing we can know. All those who are part of God’s family have won the coin flip! “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
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