Mercy & Grace
…his mercy is great…
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.
The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!
the God of all grace…
I Peter 5:10
Although these two attributes belong together in Christian experience, and are in a sense two sides of the same coin, they are not identical. Mercy is generally seen as God’s withholding from us something that we justly deserve. Grace is God’s giving to us what we don’t justly deserve as an unmerited gift – if it were merited, argues Paul, ‘grace would no longer be grace’ (Rom.11:6).
Because this is the reality of who God is (Ex.34:6), we watch in amazement as God is both merciful and gracious to all within His creation, including those who are not (yet) Christians. We saw this, in part, in our recent study on God’s patience. That He is restraining His wrath, and holding back the Day of Judgement is a mercy. And strange though it might first sound, his grace is known even by those who are not saved. At one level this is in their ongoing enjoyment of the gifts of creation and providence. It isn’t only Christians who enjoy the blessing of this world.
But more specifically there is a sense in which people who aren’t actually Christians experience His grace through their engagement with the Church: ‘when grace (or favour) is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty
of the Lord’ (Is.26:10). There is also a sense in which God’s grace has been shown to the whole world in the death of Christ – even if the whole world does not respond to that grace with faith (see Tit.2:11; Heb.2:9, though both are complex). More solemnly, Hebrews warns us of the spiritual peril experienced by those who insult the Spirit of grace (10:29), or who fall short of the grace of God (12:15). The Apostle Paul likewise urges his hearers to be careful they do not receive God’s grace in vain (II Cor.6:1), abuse that grace (Rom.6:1), or fall away from it (Gal.5:4); and Jude condemns those who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (1:4).
But in our own way of talking, and in the overwhelming usage within the Scriptures, the emphasis of both mercy and grace, and their centre of gravity, lies in the experience of the Church. It is the Church that is constantly blessed with grace (Rom.1:7; I Cor.1:3 etc.), the Church that is saved by grace (Eph.2:8, Tit.3:7), and that is under grace (Rom.6:15). We are chosen by grace (Rom.11:5); enjoy spiritual gifts through grace (Rom.12:6); are enabled to work for His glory by grace (I Cor.3:10, Eph.3:10). We receive the Spirit of grace (Zech.12:10), and are transformed into imitators of Christ by grace (II Cor.8:6-9). Grace enables us to suffer (II Cor.12:9), and secures the forgiveness of our sins (Eph.1:7). It is by God’s grace that we see the Gospel bearing fruit (Co.1:6); it was by God’s grace that we were called to a holy life and equipped to live that life (II Tim.1:9, Tit.2:11-14); it was His grace that was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (II Tim.1:9); it is God’s grace that motivates our prayer, and which we are given in our time of need (Heb.4:16); God’s grace that strengthens our hearts (Heb.13:9); and it is God’s grace that we will receive when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming (I Peter 1:13). It is the grace of God in which we stand fast (I Peter 5:12), in which we grow (II Pet.3:18), and which is ours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord (II Pet.1:2). The Christian life is throughout a testimony to the grace of God. It is the result of God’s continuous, ongoing and overwhelming outpouring of grace. In our entirety we stand in need of His mercy and grace.
It is God’s being gracious to us that leads to the people’s praise (Ps.67:1-5, Hos.14:2), and it is God’s glorious grace that is the substance of our praise, and the display of God’s glory throughout the everlasting ages of the New Creation (Eph.1:6 & 2:7); and it is according to the grace of our God that ‘the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him’ (II Thess.1:12).
In the light of this last paragraph, would you agree that a people who are apathetic in worship are a people who have experienced little of God’s grace? How would you seek to inspire deeper worship?
The attribute of God’s mercy is a ‘communicable’ one. Acknowledging that there are aspects of the Father’s mercy that we cannot replicate, we still are confronted by Jesus’ calls us to ‘be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’ (Lk.6:36). If you were to reflect God’s mercy (and grace) more fully, towards whom would you need to change your behaviour in this coming week? Can this group ask you about this next time you meet?
How important to Jesus do you think it is that you are merciful? How central is it to our thinking about what it means to be a disciple?
How can we learn to be merciful (and gracious)?
Heb.2:17. Why did Jesus have to become human in order to be a merciful High Priest?
What do we make of the distinctions between people’s experience of grace and mercy outlined in the introduction to this study? How do we feel about the seemingly discriminatory nature of God in His mercy (Rom.9:14)?
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.
For further reflection
One of the things that really stood out to people who met Jesus were His gracious words (Lk.4:22). It is no accident that the Apostles pick up on this same idea as they spell out what it means to be a disciple of this same Jesus. Col.4:6, ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace…’. What do you think this means?
We’ve already thought in these studies about the significance of the thousands of words we use every day (see study on Faithful and True). How does this add another dimension to our thinking about what Christian speech sounds like?
Do you think Paul meant it literally when he said, ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it might benefit those who listen (Eph.4:29)? How can you implement this more fully? Are there particular situations in which you will find this more difficult than others?