Dec 26, 2012
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.
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 —
- How To Be Forgiven By God
- What Are the Promises of God?
- How God’s Goodness And Mercy Follow You
- A Promise For Those Feeling Far From God
(Picture is by ToOliver2 on everystockphoto.)