Solomon writes in Proverbs 16:6, “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.”This proverb neatly encapsulates the core of the gospel. Everyone desiring the salvation of our Lord must obtain atonement for sin and depart from evil. Solomon here describes the mechanisms by which we may both obtain atonement for sin and depart from evil.
Solomon tells us that we obtain atonement for our sins through mercy. This is undeniable and is grounded in the axiom that we cannot save ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-9) and are, on our own merits, undeserving of salvation. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23). Because we cannot stand on our own merits before the Lord, we have need of his mercy. Paul instructs us in the book of Titus that the mercy of the Lord was applied apart from anything we have done. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost”(Titus 3:5) He echoes these sentiments in Romans 5:6where he describes us as being “without strength”before the Lord. We are without strength in that we cannot save ourselves, and we need the mercy of the Lord. This part of the proverb comports quite well with the rest of the scriptures. We need mercy. What about truth? How does truth enable us to obtain atonement for sin?
Jesus describes himself in John 14:6as “the truth.”Jesus is also described as the Word in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”This idea that the truth in the form of the Word of God allows us to obtain salvation also conforms to the rest of scripture. Jesus tells us, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”(John 8:32).Paul exhorts the Galatiansin 3:1to obey the truth. Doing so, he implies that the truth is the Gospel or the Word of God. So the Lord has revealed his truth in the form of his Son, and the divine revelation of his will through the word. This does not mean that by broadcasting the truth the Lord has provided for our salvation. The revealed truth of the Lord does not immediately impart salvation upon those whom it strikes. So, how is it that in truth we are saved? In truth we must respond to the truth of the Lord.
Responding to the truth in truth is key to obtaining atonement for our sins. John writes in 1 John 1:8-9statements that strongly support this:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Here, John gives us the example of confession as a mechanism for responding in truth. In the book of third John, he talks about the brethren walking in the truth, “For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth”(verses 3-4). When we hear the truth and conform our lives to the truth we are walking in truth.
So when Solomon says we obtain salvation in truth, it encompasses the truth broadcasted by the Lord, and our response to that truth by conforming ourselves to him. Solomon does not leave the proverb at mercy and truth. He continues by telling us, “And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil”(Proverbs 16:6).
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:19that Christians must depart from iniquity, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”Solomon is instructing us in this proverb that fear is one of the keys to departing from evil. If heeded, the fear of the Lord can be a powerful tool for change in our lives.
This message resounds throughout scripture. When giving instruction to the children of Israel about the conduct of their future kings, the Lord commanded that they copy and read the law. The purpose of this was so that the king would learn to fear the Lord and thus do his will.
“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them”(Deuteronomy 17:18-19).
This passage instructs us that a natural outcome of reading the word of the Lord is a fear of the Lord, and that fearing the Lord will help us keep his commandments. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 8:13that “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” If we fear God, we will do what he says. If we do what he says we will flee evil. In fact, Solomon tells us that we will hate evil. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man”(Ecclesiastes 12:13). Fear, truth and mercy are powerful tools for the Christian. By them we have opportunity to learn about the Lord, his sacrifice for us, and are motivated flee from evil and walk in truth.