Grace and Mercy


Long ago I heard this distinction between grace and mercy:

Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve.

Mercy is God sparing us from what we do deserve.

For many years this distinction has helped me when I was confused about how to respond to a specific situation or circumstance. It doesn’t resolve every quandary about how we should act toward those around us, but it does help in assessing our role in ministering to one another.

Today I read this quote from Philip Yancey; he wrote,

“Jesus forgave a thief dangling on a cross, knowing full well the thief had converted out of plain fear. That thief would never study the Bible, never attend a synagogue or church, and never make amends to those he had wronged. He simply said, ‘Jesus, remember me,’ and Jesus promised, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ It was another shocking reminder that grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather what God has done for us.”

Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus,

Ephesians 1:7-8

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
8 that he lavished on us.

I love Paul’s characterization of God’s grace; it is LAVISHED on us. That is, grace is abundantly supplied to us; not just enough, but far more than enough.

Now, I’m pretty sure grace doesn’t require us to go around giving to everyone things they don’t deserve…but sometimes it does. I’m also pretty sure it’s not supposed to be easy to determine when or when not to be gracious. It’s the wrestling with these matters which deepens our dependence upon God and His Holy Spirit.

The same is true when it comes to extending mercy. Once again, I’m pretty sure mercy doesn’t require us to let everyone off the hook for their trespasses and offenses…but sometimes it does.

The writer of Hebrews declared,

Hebrews 4:14-16

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The Apostle Paul framed our relationship with mercy this way:

Titus 3:3-7

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,
5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, ***but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Both grace and mercy are good news for all of us who place our trust in Christ. Without grace and mercy we would never find our way back to God. He paved the way for us by giving us what we did not deserve and sparing us from what we did deserve.

But our way back to God is a sobering journey; one of personal accountability for our sins which requires us to sincerely and humbly seek God’s forgiveness and surrender to His perfect purpose for our lives. What is God’s perfect purpose for us? It can be summed up this way: we were created to bring glory to God, our Creator.

God, however, is never fooled by our attempts to leverage His grace and mercy to our advantage. That is, grace and mercy are not a “get out of jail free card” that we can invoke to excuse our sins. True, God is for you and not against you, but He is not your magic genie to excuse your sin so you can live any way you want. God desires that our lives be lived with purpose and that our hearts be filled with joy because of  Him.

The Apostle Peter declared,

2 Peter 3:9

9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But genuine repentance is sincere and earnest, not an attempt to escape the reality and offensiveness of our sin. Repentance means we recognize our sinfulness and resolve, with God’s help, to turn from our sin and toward God’s righteousness.

To some this appears to be a renouncing of all that is fun and enjoyable about life, but that is far from the truth. As Andy Stanley put it in the video we watched together last week, “Following Jesus will make your life better and following Jesus will make you better at life.”

Who doesn’t want a better life and to be able to navigate life more competently? I can testify that this has been my experience. Following Jesus has made my life better and, sometimes in spite of my selfishness, it has made me better at life.

Paul wrote,

2 Corinthians 7:10

10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

When we sincerely and humbly acknowledge our sin God is faithful…He has obligated Himself…to forgive us. We experience God’s grace and mercy when we humble ourselves and accept His sovereignty as the Lord of our lives. There is no other way.



  1. Found your study material 2 days ago and have been a blessing. I enjoy the structure and outline. Thanks for putting this together.
    Bronx, New York

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