Grace and mercy are two words that appear many times in the Bible and can appear to be very similar. Mercy is defined as: “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence”. Similarly, Grace is defined as: “the unmerited favour of God toward man”.
So, is grace the same as mercy? Is grace simply God’s mercy towards man?
Let’s explore what the Bible says about grace and mercy.
What is mercy?
Throughout the Bible we consistently see mercy as a key attribute of God’s character (2 Samuel 24:14; Luke 6:36). We can see examples of his mercy in passages such as 1 Kings 11:1-13, where God shows mercy to Solomon after his numerous wives cause him to turn towards other Gods. Jesus also shared the parable of the unmerciful servant, in which the master had mercy upon his servant and commands us to also show mercy to others, because of the mercy that God has shown to us.
To understand God’s mercy, we need to understand a little more about God and about humans. Firstly, all humans are sinful. Following the fall, when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, sin entered the world and now, none of us are free from sin. This is highlighted in Romans 3:23.
Secondly, God is holy. (If you want to find out more about holiness, The Bible Project have a great video explaining this which you can watch here). Being Holy means that God is separate or cut off from evil – he cannot tolerate it. 1 John 1:5 describes that: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all”. As we have already established that humans are sinful, this leaves us with a problem. Surely this means that God is cut off from us because of our sin? This is correct, God requires punishment for sin, to rebuild this divide between us and God.
But instead of us having to pay the punishment for our sin, which would have been death, God sent his son Jesus as a sacrifice on our behalf (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29). Being a totally innocent person, Jesus had not sinned and therefore had no reason to be punished. Dying for us upon the cross was an ultimate act of mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5).
From this, we can understand God’s mercy to be his act of not forcing us to endure the punishment that we so greatly deserve. By sending Jesus, he took away the punishment that we should have faced.
So then, what is grace?
The word used in the New Testament, that translates to ‘grace’ comes from the Greek word ‘charis’, meaning favour, blessing or kindness. The vast majority of the letters in the New Testament, begin with a greeting such as “Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (see Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 1, Galatians 1 etc). This is because God is the source of grace, it is through him that we are able to express grace to other people.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
– Ephesians 2:8-9
When Jesus died upon the cross, this was God’s mercy taking away the punishment that we should have endured. But he didn’t stop there, as well as removing the punishment that we owed, he also offered us the chance to be classed as his child (Galatians 4:4-5, John 1:12-13), gifts to use for his glory (Romans 12:6), fullness of life (John 10:10) and an eternal relationship with him.
Whilst mercy withholds the punishment we deserve, grace goes one step further and chooses to bless us instead! Such grace is far, far, far beyond what we deserve, explaining why grace is such a key theme in the Bible.
“In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
God’s grace is demonstrated most perfectly in those who are weak. Our many sins reveal just how much we do not deserve God’s mercy, let alone his grace. It is for these sinful people, that God’s grace makes the biggest difference. This is not an excuse to sin as we should always strive to live more like Christ. It is simply a demonstration of God’s great love for us that as well as having mercy upon us and removing the punishment we should face, he also chooses to bless us endlessly.