grace and mercy
Originally published for the Early Sunday School class May 7th, 2021
Recently, I have been studying the two words “grace” and “mercy”. They are sometimes common words with mercy being used more frequently in our normal culture, especially our justice system. Churches though seem to use the word grace more often. While mowing my yard April 12th, I could not get these two words out of my head. God just kept bringing them to mind. I have a big yard with a lot of trees so these thoughts kept coming for a long period that day. God knew it would take a long time to get His point through my thick skull.
A main point that I kept being reminded of while mowing that day was that while these two words are similar, even consisting of five letters each, they are vastly different. It was as if God was telling me to ensure I do not mix them up. They are both large in the context of God as I will elaborate on further below. We need to truly understand both Mercy and Grace and how they relate to the character of God and what He has done for us. We also need to understand them considering how the term “justice” is used at an exponentially greater rate in our present society. Some that read this note work in our justice system. Some that read this note have been the ones offended and are seeking justice. Still others that read this note are ones that have been the offender in our justice system. Reviewing Mercy and Grace from how God looks at them can help all of us.
There are places in God’s Word where He has self-proclaimed Himself and His character. Psalms lists several of these but they almost all reference a passage in Exodus that you have likely heard before and one which I delved into in detail back on June 12th of 2020 in a lesson title “AND”. In that passage we looked at how Paul tells us in Romans 11:22 that we are to remember both the “goodness” and the “severity or wrath” of God. You may want to go back and review that lesson after reading this one. We then went back to Exodus chapter 34 to dive into what Paul was referring to regarding God’s character.
To the Jews, and hopefully to us, we should strongly consider what God says about Himself in Exodus 34. We claim chapter 34 and verse 10 as a passage over our church here at CF Paris with Pastor Cory reviewing it with us often. Moses had asked God to show him His glory in chapter 33 and God does just that in chapter 34. The lesson “AND”, back in June last year looked at Exodus 34:5-7. Today I want us to focus on verse 6 for the point I want to make about Mercy and Grace.
Exodus 34:6 (KJV)
And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.”
The phrase “The Lord, the Lord God” is stated as “Jehovah, Jehovah” in some translations, “Yahweh, Yahweh” in some, and “I AM, I AM” in others. These are the highest references we have to our Father God.
Notice that the first two things God proclaims about Himself as He passes by Moses whom God has placed in the cleft of a rock for His own protection, is that He is merciful and gracious. He goes on to declare other points in the remainder of verse 6 and then in verse 7 that are very real and must be considered as well to know the full character of God Almighty as we highlighted back in June. It is interesting though to me that the initial two points God self-proclaims are His Mercy and His Grace.
Here are just a couple of passages from Psalms that make a similar statement to Exodus 34.
Psalm 86:15 (ESV):
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Psalm 145:8 (ESV):
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
These two verses highlight that centuries after the event with Moses occurred, the Hebrews still described their God first and foremost as a merciful and gracious God, almost exactly as God Himself revealed to Moses all those many years earlier.
With that as background, have you ever asked yourself what truly is the difference between Mercy and Grace. While they are both rooted in God’s love, they are very different as we will explore further below.
The Hebrew word for “merciful” means “compassionate” or “full of compassion”. The term compassion is used in many translations instead of the common word mercy. It means to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to bestow favor”. Mercy as it applies to us and as was described so well in the early verses of Romans chapter 5 by Paul is “we have all sinned against a holy God. We deserve eternal wrath in hell. But in His mercy, God poured out on Jesus the wrath we deserved on the cross, so we could escape His wrath”.
For reasons known only to God, even though we had spit in His face, broken His laws, rejected Him and disobeyed Him, He had mercy on us. Jesus did not have to die for us. He did not have to pay for our sins. But our God is merciful or compassionate so He did not give us what we deserved. To fulfill the demands required for justice, God placed all that you personally deserved upon His One and Only Son, Jesus. Justice was and is still required. That is what the terms atonement or propitiation are all about as we covered in the lesson on that subject on April 10, 2020.
If this were all God had done, it would have been incredible. If God simply spared us from hell that would have been infinite mercy. Even if He did nothing else for us. Even if He were to just give us probation or reduce the sentence, to use terms from our present judicial processes, we would or should be grateful. Even if we were to never go to heaven or know Him. It still would have been infinite mercy to us, to NOT give us what we DID DESERVE. Due to His mercy, He did NOT send us Christians to hell, the end that we all rightfully deserve.
Mercy simply means not getting what we deserve. Even in our judicial system, you do not hear people beg for grace but you do hear them beg for mercy. They seem to partially understand the concept of mercy but do not understand the concept of grace. They just inherently know they do not want to get all that they deserve. Sadly, many will say the same thing as they die but will never have come to know the mercy we are describing in this note.
Now, let’s talk about Grace. God is not only infinitely merciful; He is also infinitely gracious. In His grace He not only withheld His wrath, but He positively saved us as is highlighted in the following familiar passage:
Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…
The Greek for the word grace - “charis” - means: kindness, favor, “a gift or blessing brought to man by Jesus Christ”, or “kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved”.
You may still not see the difference. Let’s elaborate further. In His mercy, God withholds WHAT WE DO DESERVE, but in His grace, God heaps upon us infinite blessings WE DO NOT DESERVE. In mercy He withholds what we DID MERIT – eternal wrath; and in grace He pours out lavishly or in abundance what we COULD NEVER MERIT: Eternal life, infinite joy, being one with Christ, being made like Christ. You have heard some say that grace is “unmerited favor”. Well, it is better said to be “God’s free gift of His undeserved, unmerited favor”.
A much longer description that I really love that one theologian used is as follows: “the kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues”. That is a long description but it highlights it is a full work of God and includes nothing that you initiate of your own volition. This definition tells us that God is the one that influences your soul and turns it toward Christ in the first place. You did not go hunting Him. He Himself left the ninety-nine sheep to come after you, the one lost sheep. He called you by name. He came and found you, picked you up and carried you to the fold. That is grace.
When you believe in Jesus, because of His mercy, God does not give you what you deserve – His wrath and eternal punishment in hell. Mercy withholds.
When you believe in Jesus, because of His grace, God does give you what you did not deserve. Grace gives and gives abundantly. Here is just a small list of those things He gives you that you did not deserve:
- Gives you eternal life
- Adopts you as His child
- Makes you a joint heir with Christ with infinite riches in Christ
- Gives you the Holy Spirit
- Gives you power and victory over sin
- He lives in you
- He conforms you to the image of Christ
- He causes all things to work together for your ultimate good as He sees fit for His plan for your life
- He hears your prayers
- He gives you gifts of the Spirit
- He produces fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc.
- Gives you good works to walk in
- No weapon formed against you shall prosper
- Nothing can separate you from His love
- And someday you will see His face
God does not begrudgingly pour out His grace as the list above highlights. He longs to pour it out upon us.
Isaiah 30:18 (NIV)
The Lord longs to be gracious to you
As I said earlier, He is lavish with His grace. He does not just give us a little. He pours it out. He does not squirt it on you. He does not sprinkle you with grace. No, He uses a huge pipe from his heart of love and soaks you down. He drenches every fiber of your being with this gift of grace.
Ephesians 1:7-8 (NIV)
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.
So how should we respond to what He has done for us by bestowing mercy and grace upon us? Here are just a few points:
1. Be thankful
2. Stand in wonder, amazement, praise and worship
3. Live wholeheartedly for the One who saved you
4. Imitate God and be merciful and gracious to others
The Difference and Common Parts of Mercy and Grace Summarized
So, what is the difference between grace and mercy? Both grace and mercy reveal the staggering, glorious, delightful character of God.
In His mind-boggling mercy - He does not give us what we do deserve. Rather, He gave that to Jesus.
In His outrageous, lavish grace - He gives us what we do not deserve. He gives us personally the rewards earned by Jesus Himself.
Notice that without one very important common denominator, there is no mercy or grace! Jesus is the common denominator. He takes what you deserve. You get what He has. You have to look at Him to receive it though. You have to see Him lifted up as we discussed last week. Without Jesus there remains only the wrath of God.
I pray today you have seen more of the character of God, these first two points He Himself proclaimed. Praise Him for what He has done for you and reach out to others, letting Him use you as His instrument working through you so that others may see His wondrous character as well.