Understanding Grace and Mercy
Our Heavenly Father has many wondrous characteristics which work to the benefit of mankind. We are dependant upon Him for everything, both in this life and in the life to come. We rely heavily upon His Grace and upon His Mercy. But do we fully understand those attributes? Often we find the words grace and mercy being used as if they are interchangeable; sometimes we met people who teach that they are two sides of the same coin – virtually inseparable. Indeed both words are found together in at least a half dozen passages in the scriptures. Genesis 19:19, “Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast showed unto me in saving my life;” 1 Tim 1:2, “Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.” ; 2 Tim 1:2, “To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”; Titus 1:4, “To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.”; 2 John 3, “Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.”
Since we know that economy of words is a hallmark of inspired text we may also know that the Holy Spirit guided the inspired writers in using words which expressed the meaning He intended to convey. If the two words meant the same thing then the use of both of them in the same sentence would be redundant. But the fact is that they each have a very unique meaning and application. Such is evident from their usage in Hebrews 4:16. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Let’s examine each word and its use in the scriptures in search of a better understanding.
We use the word ‘grace’ in the English language to convey a variety of meanings. Sometimes we use it to indicate beauty of form or movement – (we may admire the skill and grace of an ice skater); or a sense of propriety or fitness – (a fine dinner may be served with style and grace); a disposition of generosity – (an act of gracious generosity). The word is sometimes used as a formal title in referring to persons who hold certain positions of royalty – (i.e. ‘your grace’); and sometimes it is used to identify the short prayer of thanksgiving before eating a meal.
It is used in the Bible to describe the favor of God, as in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” The Hebrew word “ax”, pronounced “chen or kahn”, is translated ‘grace’ 38 times and ‘favor’ 64 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Greek word “charis”, (pronounced kahr-ece) is translated ‘grace’ 130 times, and ‘favor’ 6 times. Paul uses the word in the latter part of 1 Corinthians to indicate divine influence, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me”;
And divine privilege in Ephesians 3:8, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;”
The word grace is used to
describe various characteristics of Christians, as found in Colossians 3:12-15, “Put on therefore, as the
elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of
mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one
another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so
also do ye. And above all these things put on
charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your
hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body;
and be ye thankful.”
and 2 Peter 1:5-7, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”
– we sometimes refer to these as ‘the Christian graces’. We are admonished to ‘grow in grace’, (2 Peter ), “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”
And just how might we achieve this objective, to ‘grow in grace’? 1 Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby.” “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;”, Colossians 1:10. The ‘sincere milk of the word’, (regular, consistent study of God’s word), will help us to develop these highly important characteristics – graces.
But the word grace has a particularly unique use in the language of salvation. Ephesians chapter 2, verses 4-10 gives us a beautiful summary of the role of God’s grace in our salvation; “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
In the context of our soul’s salvation, grace is best described as God’s having given us that which we do not deserve. Motivated by His love, God has given us the means by which we may attain forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation. God’s grace is extended to all men; John 1:7, “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.”
John 12:32, “I…will draw ALL men unto me”; Acts , “…commandeth ALL MEN everywhere to repent”; see also Romans 5:18; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; Acts ; and Titus 2:11 to fully understand that God’s grace is freely extended to all men, every creature, all nations.
The scriptures teach us that God’s saving grace is freely extended to every human being who has ever lived, is living now, or who ever will live on earth until the end of time. There is no person who is not a recipient of God’s grace. Does that mean that all will be saved? It does mean that all men have the opportunity to be saved, but not everyone will accept God’s grace, Romans 10:16, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel…” , (some of the most sad words contained in holy writ). Grace is most certainly the beginning point of our salvation; we could not be saved without it. But if grace alone were the only requisite for salvation then everyone would be saved unconditionally. But notice the language of Ephesians 2:8, “…by grace are ye saved, through faith…” A more accurate translation would be “…through THE faith…”. The direct translation is “By that favor, indeed, you have been saved, through the faith;…”.
better understand what is meant by the phrase “the faith”, consider the
following passages: Acts 6:7,
“And the word
of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned”, (Mark -16). So then, grace is freely extended to all; those who accept it by obedience to the gospel, and thereby become partakers of “the faith” for which Christ gave His life.
The Bible clearly teaches that only those who accept the offer of God’s grace will receive His mercy. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8, “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:” ; Hebrews 5:9, “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;”; 1 Peter 4:17, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”
We use the word mercy to indicate compassionate treatment, clemency, pity, kindhearted forgiveness. The word presupposes that the recipient is in need of it, and that the giver possesses resources adequate to meet that need, (Vine). We find it in the scriptures describing such attributes of our Heavenly Father.
Genesis 19:19, “Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast showed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:”; 39:21 “But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” ; Exodus 15:13, “Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.”; 20:6, “And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”, and numerous other passages, including Exodus 33:19; 34:7; Numbers 14:19; Deuteronomy 5:10; 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalms 23:6; Psalms 85:10; Luke 1:50; Ephesians 2:4; summarized in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
The Bible tells us that we are saved by grace – but could we be saved without God’s mercy; most certainly not. Yet, we must accept His grace in order to receive His mercy.
We see grace as that which God has given us that we do not deserve; mercy as that which God has not given us even though we do deserve it. In His mercy, God has given us Christ to die for our sins, a gift that we do not deserve. Because of His grace, we are able to escape the punishment that we justly deserve.
No person guilty of a crime has ever stood before a judge and cried out ‘I demand justice’; rather the inclination is to beg for mercy. Certainly as we stand before the God of Heaven we don’t want justice, that which we justly deserve as a result of our sinful life, rather we plead for His divine mercy. "I will trust in the mercy of God forever and ever." Ps. 52:8.
Romans 9:15-16, “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”
(Reference is to Exodus 3:19). And to whom does God extend His divine mercy? To those who choose to accept His grace, who obey his will. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven”, (Matthew 7:21). In granting to us His mercy, God is not simply ignoring or excusing our wrongdoing, but is keeping His promises; 1 John 1:9.
God’s promises of salvation are conditional, IF we keep His commandments, then we will receive His mercy. His Grace is freely extended to all, but His mercy is granted to those who obey Him. Ecclesiastes 12:13.
The common denominator of God’s grace and mercy is His love, Romans 5:8-11.