Imprisoned for Mercy

The Bible constantly declares that all humanity is imprisoned not only under the penalty for sin-death-but also under the power of sin-enslavement. We suffer both the penalty and the power. That is, we human beings are unable to extradite ourselves from sin. Sin has power over us.

This is another chapter from Jeff Harkin’s book, “Grace Plus Nothing.” If you haven’t yet read the previous post, we encourage you to do so first.

Imprisoned for mercy

Those who are satisfied with their own righteousness are actually in a world of trouble, but they don’t know it.

We said in [another] chapter that our righteousness can’t do it. It can’t satisfy God and it seldom satisfies us.

Those who are satisfied with their own righteousness are actually in a world of trouble, but they don’t know it.



Now I want to expand our understanding of why our righteousness can’t do it. The Bible says that the entire world is under the penalty of sin.

For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

We already know this; it’s why most of us became Christians. Death is obvious, and we want eternal life.

But the Bible constantly declares that all humanity is imprisoned not only under the penalty for sin-death-but also under the power of sin-enslavement. We suffer both the penalty and the power. That is, we human beings are unable to extradite ourselves from sin. Sin has power over us.

The penalty and the power-both are undeniable realities. Humanity struggles to free itself from its prison of sin and from death as if some human cure is possible, but sin and death continue unabated.

For all have sinned and gall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23).

God gave them over in the lust of their hearts (Romans 1:24).

Both of these verses refer to all of humanity. God gave us over in our lusts. In other words, he gave us over to the power of sin. Thus we are unable to free ourselves from the power of sin. We are imprisoned by sin so the apostle Paul cried:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Romans 7:23).

It is not so difficult to see why the Lord ordained that the penalty for sin should be death. Clearly sin cannot give life. Neither can the Lord allow the universe to become filled with eternal sinners. No, sin must have an end. Therefore there must be death.

All of this makes sense. But why would a good God turn us over to the power of sin so that we are unable to free ourselves? Is it all a cruel hoax? No, it is the wisdom of God:

For God has shut up all in disobedience that he might show mercy to all (Romans 11:32).

Here is God’s program. All of us are shut up (imprisoned) in disobedience (the power of sin) so that God can have mercy on us.

Our imprisonment is effective because it leaves us with only one alternative: If we want to be forgiven and freed from the penalty and the power of sin, we must accept God’s mercy.

In other words, we have been imprisoned for the sake of mercy. That is what the word of God says. God’s will is mercy. It makes sense; it is God’s will that we have been unable to free ourselves from sin so that we must put our hope totally in God’s mercy. Note, totally. Not partly In God’s mercy and partly in human ability. That is why Peter told us:

Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).


The primary issue is placing our hope completely in the grace of God. Our only hope of righteousness is trusting Christ and his finished work at the cross-plus nothing! This sounds radical, and it is. But it is also Biblical. The gospel of Jesus Christ is radical because nothing less can accomplish his purpose in us. Works righteousness is dead! The performance basis for right standing before God is dead!

I plan to demonstrate many times from the Scriptures and from experience that even after you become a Christian, the only way to maintain freedom from the power of sin is to continue to receive God’s mercy. And don’t kid yourself. If you persist in works righteousness, the Lord will allow you to fail in order to guide you back to trusting totally in his mercy. Even as a Christian, sin will seem to prevail until you forsake works righteousness and begin trusting God’s mercy as your only basis of right standing before him.

Someone will question this and say that the Bible teaches us that God has transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his dear Son (see Colossians 1:13), so how can sin still have power over us.

Of course, this transfer is complete, but it happened totally on the basis of grace. Many Christians forget this, and they return again to works of righteousness. So I intend to demonstrate that sin will continue to have limited power over such Christians simply because works righteousness can never eliminate sin. This happened to me, and it might be happening to you. The Lord never causes us to sin, but he may allow some painful struggles and defeats in our lives until we acknowledge his grace more fully.

Most Christians say they know grace, but their struggles and defeats indicate quite the opposite.

Don’t depend upon your human ability to grasp and apply grace. Rather, repent of that and right now ask the Lord to begin to reveal his grace to you-what it really means and how it really works.

O Lord, have mercy upon us and grant that we may see and know and accept your grace. Grant that we may learn to fix our hope totally in Jesus Christ and his shed blood.

Author and Copyright

This is an excerpt from “Grace Plus Nothing” — Paperback | Kindle — by Jeff Harkin.

Copyright, Jeff Harkin. All Rights Reserved. Sample chapters published at Apologetics Index by permission of the author. Do not copy and republish the text.

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