Since my friend Matthew Ruttan wrote about grace this morning, I feel inspired to offer a word or two about mercy, grace’s companion in the Christian life.
Grace is getting what you don’t deserve – unmerited favour, like (as Matthew so brilliantly said) dissing a cashier, finding that your debit card was rejected, and then finding the cashier paying for your order. That’s grace: getting what you don’t deserve.
Mercy, on the other hand, is not getting what you do deserve. I’ll admit that it’s a little bit less popular (okay, a whole lot less popular) to talk about mercy than grace. Grace is always framed in the positive, while mercy tends to be framed in the negative. But each is equally important if we are to understand the Christian life.
Mercy is harder for us to swallow because, for the most part, we tend to think that we can’t possibly deserve something bad enough that it needs to be held back from us. After all, we might think, we give to the church, we help little old ladies cross the road, we haven’t killed anybody (yet). Surely that means we’ve ducked from punishment, right?
Honestly, that’s not how the Christian life works.
Put simply, a holy God requires perfection, apart from which perfect sacrifice is necessary. This is what we see portrayed in the Old Testament. Humanity has been in rebellion from God since our first parents disobeyed. Yet only once did God flood the earth and effectively decide to start again. How many time since must God have wanted to obliterate the human race and hit the reset button?! But he has not done that.
No. God has shown mercy. He has not given us what we deserve.
The beautiful part of salvation is that grace becomes the icing on the cake. When Jesus died for our sins and rose again to bring us eternal life, that was the greatest example of grace ever given: we got what we didn’t deserve. And we got it because we didn’t get what we did deserve. We received mercy.
I don’t know about you, but the thought of this makes me fall on my knees in gratitude! God has spared us when we deserved death. God has saved us when we deserved nothing. This idea isn’t intended to make us feel lower than a snake’s belly; it’s intended to remind us of the wonder of God and his kindness in extending both mercy and grace to us. May you express your gratitude to God today!
“Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy” (1 Peter 2.10, NLT).