Are mercy and grace the same thing? Do Christians receive only one or both? What are the differences between 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 [and daughters] 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 [and] 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
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.