Living By Faith Blog

Icon

Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

Is Grace Different From Mercy?

GraceAndMercy 3God’s Grace and Mercy

I’ve heard people say that in the Bible grace means God gives good things to us (like justification and eternal life), and mercy means God withholds bad things from us (like wrath and judgment).

But is that true?

Do grace and mercy have different meanings?

To answer that, I asked —

Can Mercy Be Used For Giving Good Things?

I was surprised to see that it can.

One example is Luke 10:37, where the good Samaritan “shows mercy” to the man who had been beaten and robbed.  Here, “mercy” is not that the good Samaritan withheld bad things from the man.  No, “mercy” is that the good Samaritan did good things for this man — binding his wounds, carrying him to an inn, and paying his bill.

Another example is 1 Peter 1:3 —

According to his great MERCY, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

This verse talks about what God does by His mercy.  But notice that nothing is said about God withholding bad things from us.  It’s all about God doing wonderful good for us — causing us to be born again.

Another example is Ephesians 2:4-5 —

But 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 — by grace you have been saved.

Again, this verse talks about how rich God is in mercy.  And what God does for us in His mercy is bring us great good — making us alive with Christ.

Of course, there are many times when “mercy” describes God withholding wrath from us (James 2:13; Heb 10:28).  But the point is that God’s  mercy is more than just how He withholds wrath.  God’s mercy includes how He lavishes us with good.

Can Grace Refer To Withholding Bad Things?

Yes, it can.  Look at Ephesians 1:7 —

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

By God’s grace He forgives, which means He does not to bring wrath upon us.  So while grace can refer to God doing good for us, it can also refer to God withholding something bad — in this case, wrath.

Look also at Hebrews 2:9 —

By the grace of God [Christ] tasted death for everyone.

By God’s grace He had Christ taste death so we would not need to taste the death we deserved.  So again, grace can include God withholding something from us — in this case, spiritual death.

Why Limit These Words?

Based on the above Scriptures I see no reason to limit the word “grace” to God doing good for us, or the word “mercy” to God withholding bad from us.

Grace and mercy BOTH refer to God’s doing great good for us AND to God’s withholding all wrath from us.

Why Is This Important?

Take Matthew 5:7, for example —

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

One reason we can freely give mercy to others is because we know our future is full of God’s mercy.  This is motivating because, as we have seen, “mercy” includes God doing us great good AND keeping us from all wrath.

Think of a future which is ALL God’s great good and NONE of God’s wrath.  That frees us to show mercy.

But if we think mercy only means God keeps us from wrath, and does not also mean God gives us great good, then we will miss half of the encouragement Jesus offers in this verse.

Take Romans 5:2 as another example —

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.

That’s powerful.  By faith in Christ alone you stand in grace — which includes BOTH God doing wonderful good for you AND God withholding all wrath from you.

But if we wrongly think grace refers only to God doing good, then we will miss half of what it means to stand in grace.

A Gold MineGold miner by ToOliver2 on everystockphoto

Verses in Scripture are like gold mines — with riches awaiting those who will dig.

But if we don’t understand that grace and mercy BOTH refer to God giving us good AND to God keeping us from judgment — we can  end up missing half the gold.

So understand grace and mercy — and get all the gold.

Comments?  Opinions?  Thoughts?

I’d love to hear them– leave a reply below.  Thanks.

If you know someone who would be helped by reading this, use the “share” button to email it to them.  Or use the other buttons to share this on your favorite social media.

If you would like to receive a Saturday email summarizing the week’s posts — subscribe here.

And here are some related posts you might find helpful —

(Picture is by ToOliver2 on everystockphoto.)

Category: God's Promises

Tagged:

11 Responses

  1. Ron R. says:

    Steve:

    Thank you for sharing this. As long as I can remember in my Christian life I have limited these words. I had always thought of grace as “God’s riches at Christ’s Expense” and mercy as God withholding his anger toward me.

    I never even considered that would mean more than this. So now when I read these words in scripture I will be more inclined to dig deeper into what the verse really means.

    Thanks again for your incite.

    Ron R.

  2. Paul Walton says:

    Steve,
    I am certain we will be blown away when we finally understand the amount of evil that God has held back from mankind through the ages. If God’s hand of mercy and grace was to be removed from this earth completely it would spiral down at a rate that would bring about it’s destruction within days. And in fact that day is coming, when God’s grace and mercy is completely withdrawn from this world, woe to us then. The amazing thing is that instead of falling on their knees and crying out for mercy, men will curse God because He will allow their sin to go unchecked, and they shall receive the full payment of their rebellion. God has shown us sinners much undeserved mercy and grace, much more than we should receive, because He is desiring that all men would come to repentance.

    “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

    We have all turned our backs on God’s mercy and grace, and if not for His great love, none would be saved. God’s light came into this world and men have seen the light, and men have hated the light, men have harden their hearts towards the light.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      It’s always good to hear from you, Paul. I love how clearly you see that mercy is completely undeserved. So, so true.

      Let’s give our lives to glorifying Sovereign Mercy forever, brother!

      Steve

  3. John Wesley says:

    One interpretation I’ve heard before reading this is this: Mercy is something we deserve whereas grace is something we didn’t deserve. Like say, we ask God for forgiveness and we are forgiven, that’s mercy. But sometimes, we are unrepentant, yet God still chooses to bless us and does not count the offense toward us (Like when Christ came to this earth while we were *still* sinners) – that’s grace. Just thought I should share.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi John,

      Great to hear from you — thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      I’ve never heard the idea that mercy is deserved but grace undeserved. And even if we ask for forgiveness, isn’t it still true that receiving forgiveness is undeserved? The reason is that our asking for forgiveness does not deserve the gift of forgiveness. It’s only Jesus’ death that is worthy enough to accomplish forgiveness.

      In other words, if Jesus had not died, my act of asking forgiveness would not obligate God to forgive me.

      I hope that helps — and thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  4. Omalay says:

    Grace & Mercy – my 2 words for year 2013! No matter where we go, no matter what we do, God makes it hard for us to escape His love. Both His grace & mercy got us covered!!

    Thank you for sharing and bless you!

  5. Omalay says:

    Grace & mercy – they are like 2 sides of the same coin! One really can’t go without the other!

  6. Alvin says:

    Grace is a person; Grace is Jesus himself. When we are conscious of Jesus; we are conscious of Grace. Grace means unmerited love/favor. Jesus is our unmerited love/favor.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Alvin,

      Isn’t it encouraging that in and through Jesus Christ we receive all the grace we will ever need? In Him we have unmerited love and favor being poured on us forever. Awesome!

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

Leave a Reply

Join 2,375 people who receive each week’s posts by email

More Help for Your Faith

  • RSS Feed
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

Feedback

"I just found your blog recently, and I've NEVER found such clarity, understanding and comfort before." (Sarah)

"AWESOME. Going to mangle this sin tonight with the Promises of God." (Alec)

"If I could subscribe to only one blog, yours would be it." (Lyn)

"I think you are really on to something with this blog. I don’t know of anything else like it." (Doug)

"Excellent comment. Really well put and wisdom that is strangely lacking in much evangelical thinking." (John)

"Thank you -- I needed to hear this. So clear and concise yet captivating." (Stacey)

"Such a helpful post. I’ve bookmarked it and reread it two or three mornings just this week." (Doug)