It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)
Let us make crystal clear at the beginning of the year that all we will get from God this year, as believers in Jesus, is mercy. Whatever pleasures or pains come our way will all be mercy.
This is why Christ came into the world: “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). We were born again “according to his great mercy” (1 Peter 1:3). We pray daily “that we may receive mercy” (Hebrews 4:16); and we are now “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:21). If any Christian proves trustworthy, it is “by the Lord’s mercy [he] is trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25).
In Luke 17:5–6, the apostles plead with the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” In other words, the issue in our Christian life and ministry is not the strength or quantity of our faith, because that is not what uproots trees. God does. Therefore, the smallest faith that truly connects us with Christ will engage enough of his power for all you need.
But what about the times that you successfully obey the Lord? Does your obedience move you out of the category of supplicant of mercy? Jesus gives the answer in the following verses of Luke 17:7–10.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Therefore, I conclude, the fullest obedience and the smallest faith obtain the same thing from God: mercy. A mere mustard seed of faith taps into the mercy of God’s tree-moving power. And flawless obedience leaves us utterly dependent on mercy.
The point is this: Whatever the timing or form of God’s mercy, we never rise above the status of beneficiaries of mercy. We are always utterly dependent on what we do not deserve.
Therefore let us humble ourselves and rejoice and “glorify God for his mercy!”
– John Piper