As followers of Jesus, we throw around a lot of words that don’t show up in everyday society – or, at least, their definitions differ from those applied by the world around us. I’d like us to consider two of those words: mercy and grace.
In general, the word mercy doesn’t show up in everyday lingo very much. In sports, we sometimes think of a “mercy” rule, wherein a game is finished early because one team is beating the tar out of another team, and a turnaround doesn’t seem remotely possible. In childhood play, if we wrestle with a sibling or a friend, and one gets the other in some sort of locked position, there might be a requirement to “cry ‘mercy’” in order to be let go. These concepts of mercy fall short, though, don’t they? One seems more like sympathy, and the other more like submission. So what is mercy, really?
For the Christian, when we talk about God’s mercy, we refer to not receiving what we deserve. So what do we deserve? What does Scripture say? “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6.23a, NLT). God’s standard is perfection, and we fail to be perfect; we sin every day (well, speaking personally, anyway). The wages of sin is death: that’s what we deserve. But one of the key characteristics of God is that God is merciful. He does not give us what we deserve. We are spared from death by his mercy in Jesus Christ.
In the world, grace tends to be seen as either something that has to do with how a lady carries herself – graceful – or a prayer that is said before Thanksgiving dinner. Though grace is a decidedly God-oriented word, it isn’t often used that way. Sometimes, we use the words mercy and grace interchangeably, but they really aren’t.
For the Christian, to receive grace is to receive what we do not deserve. It’s unmerited favour from God. My favourite acronym for grace, as a good definition, is, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. So what is it that we do not deserve? What does Scripture say? “…but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6.23b, NLT). Grace is God’s gift – eternal life. We don’t deserve it, but by faith in Jesus and his death and resurrection, we receive eternal life as a gift. We can’t earn it, no matter how hard we try. Nothing we do, good or bad, can bring us grace. We don’t deserve it, and we can’t deserve it in anyway.
Mercy: not receiving what we deserve. Grace: receiving what we don’t deserve. God is gracious and merciful toward us. In Jesus, we receive mercy and grace. What better reason to give thanks do we need?!