I had a really interesting question from our niece yesterday. During her weekly Bible study, her group got into a discussion about the difference between grace and mercy. Frankly, I thought it would be a topic of general interest and after I replied to her, I decided that it would be a great subject for tonight’s post. There are many schools of thought on the subject, and I am sure that there may be some disagreement, but in general, while the definitions are similar, grace and mercy are not interchangeable words. They are, in fact, different.
Mercy is probably a little easier to discuss first. It is the absence of punishment by one who is in a position of power or authority to cause harm to another. You’ve probably heard the phrase to “throw yourself on the mercy of the court.” In other words, the defendant is guilty of some infraction or crime and asks for leniency or mercy. This would entail a reduction of the sentence that would otherwise be considered “justice.”
From a theological perspective, we are all sinners. Therefore, we don’t deserve mercy but God, in His infinite love for us, does not exact the punishment for sins that we have committed. In fact, that is why Jesus died on the cross – to take on the sins of all of us and to be the perfect sacrifice, once and for all, never to be repeated again. God demonstrated mercy for mankind and He calls us to extend mercy to one another in our Christian walk.
Of course, grace is also rooted in divine love for us. The simple definition of grace is “undeserved favor or blessing.” So, in its simplest form, grace is a blessing that God extends to us when we don’t deserve it. Grace can also be thought of as a gift. And a form of grace, sanctifying grace, is one of the ways that God draws us to Himself and causes us to become more Christlike in our walk with Him. Grace has also sometimes been defined as extending kindness to the unworthy. And as Christians, none of us is worthy.
That’s why salvation is a gift from God through the work of the Holy Spirit. In our human condition, we can’t earn our way into heaven and we don’t deserve to be there – perfectly sanctified, living eternally with Christ. We don’t even have to “earn” our way into heaven. God does the “work” of preparing our hearts to receive Him. So all we have to do is accept the free gift of salvation. That is God’s grace – giving us undeserved favor. And clearly, the centerpiece of both God’s grace and God’s mercy is His unexplainable, indescribable love for us.
I guess we could complicate things a little and even say that God’s mercy is an act of grace – a kindness we are unworthy of receiving – undeserved favor…
Our verse for this evening is from the author of Hebrews, who is generally acknowledged to be unknown. He tells us, in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” This verse pretty much sums up all that we have been studying tonight, doesn’t it? And, hopefully, it is easier to understand after tonight’s blog.
My encouragement this evening is that God extends us mercy and wishes that each of us would do the same to our fellow humans. My prayer is that we will study mercy and extend it not only to Christians but to all folks, as we are taught that Christ died for all of us, not just those who believed in Him at the time. I furthermore pray that through God’s grace we will all be able to spend eternity with the Father and His Son. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…