Are mercy and grace the same thing? Do Christians receive only one or both? What are the differences between mercy and grace?
Table of contents
- 1 World’s Definition of Grace
- 2 World’s Definition of Mercy
- 3 Biblical Definition of Grace
- 4 Biblical Definition of Mercy
- 5 The Difference between Mercy and Grace
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 Article by Jack Wellman
- 8 Recent Photos
- 9 “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). What are mercy and grace?
World’s Definition of Grace
If you looked up a dictionary’s definition of grace, you would see it as being the unmerited, divine assistance that humans receive for their regeneration by God and also as being a virtue coming from God. That’s a pretty good definition about what grace is coming from a simple dictionary but there are others that are much further from this truth. Grace can be seen as an effortless sense of beauty, an elegance of charm, a benevolent sense of attitude or character, a smooth movement, a form or proportion of near perfection, and even a characteristic of refinement. The world sees grace as being either in a form or shape of something, a movement, or a person’s characteristic, or something from God and one of His attributes.
World’s Definition of Mercy
The dictionary contains a variety of definitions about mercy. It is seen as a disposition to dispense forgiveness or to show great compassion. It is also defined as the ability to pardon or forgive something of someone that is seen as unforgiveable by others on a subject who deserves just punishment or discipline. It may be the dispensing of leniency or the compassionate treatment of someone that does not deserve such treatment. In other words, mercy is what is withheld which they deserve. What they deserve they do not get.
Biblical Definition of Grace
From a personal standpoint, I see grace as something that is unmerited and undeserved. It is not something that a person has a right to receive. Like a birthday present that is given, the recipient did nothing to earn it. How can a person be responsible for their own birth and yet receive a gift or gifts for their birthday? The answer is they can’t. They have no right to grace, they didn’t earn it, they could do nothing to force grace to be given to them.
The Bible’s definition, which is really God’s definition, is much the same. We receive from God what we do not deserve nor could earn in any way. Paul says that our salvation is a gift of God and something that we could never achieve on our own merit. In writing to the church at Ephesus he says “as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (Eph 1:5-8) and “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:5-9).
So grace is not by something we did (works), something we deserved (God’s kindness) or something we have a right to (we were dead in sin). In short, God’s grace is something which we receive that we do not deserve.
Biblical Definition of Mercy
Mercy is not the same thing as grace even though God also shows us mercy. Paul once again reminds the Ephesians that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). God is rich in mercy but frequently mankind is not. We like to get even when people wrong us. This is something that God does not do for those who repent and trust in Christ. God tells you that He “redeems your life from the pit who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Psalm 103:4). The reason we should “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22) is not only because “the merciful…shall obtain mercy” (Matt 6:7) but it is because “the Lord is gracious and merciful” to us (Psalm 111:4). The fact is God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5) and “according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3).
The Difference between Mercy and Grace
Grace and mercy are not the same thing although they both come from God. Grace is what we receive that we do not deserve while mercy is what we do not get that we do deserve. He gives the one (grace) and withholds the other (mercy) and that is why we ought to give thanks to God for His goodness. What we do deserve is the wrath of God (John 3:36), instead He refrains from giving us what we truly deserve (mercy) and then extends to us what we could not earn in a million years (grace).
If you have not yet repented and put your trust in the Savior, He will be your judge someday (Rev 20:11-15). The wrath of God remains on you and you are storing up wrath every single day (Rom 2:5). Someday the wrath of God, currently being held in check by the dam of His mercy, will burst forth and be poured out on you and from such, there is no escape. God has made a way to escape the rightful and just wrath of God. He poured out His wrath on Christ at Calvary so it wouldn’t have to be poured out on you. If you trust in Christ, then the Father will see you as having Jesus’ own righteousness because He made Jesus sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). Will you at least think about this? What is done today can never be undone in eternity. You have a choice to make. Will you receive grace and mercy from God today or will you receive the deserved wrath of God some unexpected day?
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.
photo credit: Martin LaBar (going on hiatus) via photopin cc
Mercy and grace are two vital Christian terms whose meanings are often misunderstood. In short, mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve; grace is God giving us something we do not deserve.
In Habakkuk 3:2, the prophet asks the Lord to “in wrath remember mercy.” Despite God’s judgment, He asked for God to relent and not pour out the full wrath they deserved. King David sought this mercy in Psalm 51:1-2 in confessing his sin: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Despite his many failures, David asked God to relent and not bring upon him the full consequences of his sin.
Grace, on the other hand, is God extending favor toward us that we do not deserve. Both Ephesians 2:5 and 2:8 state it is “by grace you have been saved.” God’s salvation comes from His grace. Some describe grace as unmerited or unearned favor.
In theology, two kinds of grace are often distinguished. Common grace is defined as God’s grace given to all humanity regardless of their response to Him. This can include the beauty of creation, the provision of food and other essentials, and every good thing that happens to a person regardless of whether the person is a believer or unbeliever.
Saving grace is grace from God that provides salvation to a person. This is the grace described in Ephesians 2:8-9 that states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Both perfect mercy and perfect grace are found in Jesus Christ. Through His sacrifice on the cross, He has provided a way of escape or mercy from the consequences of sin (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). God has extended grace by providing salvation and proclaiming salvation to us through the Son, His teaching in Scripture, and through the Spirit of God at work among us. Hebrews 4:16 blends these two ideas in one powerful statement, teaching, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Our only rightful response is to accept both God’s mercy and His grace and accept the eternal life He offers through Jesus Christ. Through this salvation, we receive the mercy of forgiven sin and the grace of life in Christ, including eternity with Him. Jesus has come to give us life, and life abundantly (John 10:10).
Related Truth: Saving grace – What is it?What is the meaning of Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death”?What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins?The attributes of God, what are they?The true gospel – What is it?
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“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). What are mercy and grace?
We can find the words grace and mercy used in the same context and sometimes in the same sentence in the Bible. Do they mean the same thing? And if not, what is the difference?
Lesson from Jonah
The story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, being delivered and giving God’s message to the city of Nineveh is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. What is sometimes lost in the telling of this story is one of the great lessons we can learn from it: God is a God of mercy, and He desires to see that same trait in us.
After his effort to run away from what God commissioned him to do, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and eventually was deposited on the shores near Nineveh (Jonah 1 and 2). After preaching to the people of Nineveh about the need to repent, something happened that Jonah wasn’t expecting: The people of Nineveh repented, and God spared them (Jonah 3).
Jonah’s reaction in chapter 4 was to sit outside the city and wait to see the destruction that never came. God prepared a plant to shield Jonah from the heat of the sun, and then destroyed the plant (verses 6-8). When Jonah became angry about the loss of the plant, God told Jonah the lesson he needed to learn: “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:11). Jonah needed to learn about mercy.
Mercy is a part of God’s nature. How important is mercy to us? And where does grace fit into the picture?
What is mercy?
Mercy is commonly defined as forbearance or kindness. In particular, mercy usually involves kindness shown at a time when a severe penalty is expected. Mercy is one of God’s traits, shown often toward mankind, as shown by this statement from Moses to the children of Israel:
“When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:30-31).
Mercy is often tied to the concept of forgiveness. For instance, if you forgive someone who has wronged or hurt you, that would be an act of mercy.
The book of Numbers illustrates this with the account of the children of Israel when they sent spies to the Promised Land. Ten of the 12 spies brought back a negative report about the land. The Israelites reacted with mourning and complaining and wanted to choose a new leader to take them back to Egypt, in spite of the many great miracles God had performed for them.
This rebellion greatly angered God, and when He was ready to destroy the people, Moses intervened and appealed to God’s mercy:
“And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty. …’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now” (Numbers 14:17-19).
God responded, “I have pardoned, according to your word” (verse 20).
While the Bible often talks about mercy in reference to sins and transgressions, that isn’t always the case. At times, we can have mercy (or receive it) in situations of trial or discomfort, as shown in this passage in Proverbs: “He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Proverbs 14:21).
All of these passages refer to an act of kindness or forgiveness toward someone who is in need of it. How does grace fit into this picture, and is it the same as mercy?
Grace is not the same thing
Although mercy is certainly an aspect of God’s grace, grace is a broader, more extensive concept than mercy. Grace comes from the Greek word charis, which has multiple meanings, including gift, favor and kindness. It refers to the unearned favor of God that is extended to us to pardon our sins upon repentance and to enable us to have a healthy, happy relationship with our Creator. Our sins being forgiven by God’s grace leads to salvation (11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
New King James Version (NKJV) The Holy Bible, New King James Version ©1982 by Thomas Nelson”>Titus 2:11).
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11).
Grace is often mentioned in the context of guilt. We have all sinned, and the price for those sins is death. That penalty was paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
Grace involves the unmerited pardon of our sins, and that pardon was made possible by Christ’s death.Grace involves the unmerited pardon of our sins, and that pardon was made possible by Christ’s death.
God’s grace will be made available to all mankind! When the apostles gathered in a conference in Jerusalem and debated how gentiles as well as Israelites could receive salvation, Peter made the following statement: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:11). The apostles went on to listen to accounts of how God had worked with the gentiles—pardoning their sins and giving them the Holy Spirit.
Grace is what allows us to be cleansed of our sins and to be reconciled to our Creator: “To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:6-7).
Mercy and grace!
Now consider this passage from the apostle Paul: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:12-14). Here, we clearly see that the meaning of grace is broader than that of mercy.
Paul had reason to expect punishment or harsh treatment because of his zealous persecutions of the early Christians. Instead, he received unexpected benevolence and forgiveness. He himself was called to be a Christian and a minister of the truth! That mercy, however, did not forgive his sins and justify him before God. That was given by grace—by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Grace is something we all need, but we cannot earn it or give it to others. It comes only through the sacrifice of Christ. Mercy, though, is something we need at various points in our lives, and is something we are expected to show toward others.
Notice these words from Christ, given in the message we know as the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). We have all gone through times in our lives when we have been in need of mercy. How much mercy are we showing?
Grace includes the unmerited gift of salvation and many other expressions of God’s grace, and with these gifts come responsibilities and expectations from our Creator. For more information on the subject of God’s grace, see the article “What Is Grace?”