What is the difference between grace and mercy? Aren’t they both the same? You may have asked these questions before. You probably got the stock answer that every preacher who went to seminary was taught. Grace is unmerited favor and mercy is more or less the same thing. But is that really all there is to it?
The need for mercy and grace
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s right. We have to go all the way back to the beginning to find out why there is a need for such things as mercy and grace. The Creator, Who is Yahweh, created the earth and the universe and all that is contained in them in six days. His penultimate creation was a being in His own image. He called him Adam. From Adam He took a rib and created Eve as Adam’s partner. (For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave only to his wife.) Everything that God created was declared “very good”.
What went wrong?
But it was not very long before another character appeared. He was a created being but had fallen into disfavor because he had instigated a revolt in the heavens. He had declared, “I will be like the most high.” His name was Lucifer. At one time he was the head angel in charge of the praise of the Creator. But pride brought forth rebellion in him. He was cast out of heaven and found his way to earth.
Seeing God’s highest creation, Adam, and the fact that God had breathed His breath of life into him, Lucifer became jealous and hatched a plan to subvert God’s plan. He was sneaky and subtle so instead of appearing to the man he went first to the woman and in the form of a serpent. Apparently at that time the serpent was not what we think of as a snake, though that is what he became.
Lucifer, in the body of the serpent, approached Eve instead of Adam. Now, he was very wiley in coming to her. He was aware that Adam and Eve had freedom to do what they wished in the garden where God had placed them to tend it. This freedom which they enjoyed was limited by only one provision. There were many trees in the Garden, called Eden, and they bore fruits of varying kinds. They were free to eat from all of them except one. That one was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God had said that if they ate of that tree they would die. Death was a hard thing for them to comprehend because there was nothing known of death at that time.
Lucifer, as I said, approached Eve, not Adam. He conversed with her about the Garden of Eden and the fruits of it. Eve told him of the one tree they could not eat from and what would be the outcome. Rather than calling God a liar, Lucifer just questioned whether Eve had heard God correctly. Then he turned her attention to the attributes of the fruit. He appealed to her senses. It was pleasant to look at. It should probably be tasty to eat. You can become like God. What is death any how? So she ate of the fruit and gave one to her husband, too.
Something changed. For some reason they felt a need to cover their body. Before, they were naked and innocent with no feeling of a need to be covered. But now, for some reason they needed to cover their body. So they took plant leaves and made coverings.
That same day, the Creator came calling in the garden. They were no where to be seen. Adam finally came out and admitted that they were hiding because they were naked. The Creator asked him, “Who told you you were naked?” ” Have you eaten of the forbidden tree?” Then the blame game began. “That woman that you gave me made me eat it.” Eve intones, “The serpent beguiled me and I ate it.” They had broken the covenant which they had with their Creator. For that they had to be cast out of The Garden of Eden, lest they should eat of The Tree of Life and live in their sin forever.
That day mankind died, or as the Hebrew language says it, “in dying you will die.” (Does that sound a little like the second law of thermodynamics? I’ll explain that later.) Mankind, in Adam, would now be separated from his Creator and through cell degeneration would be steadily and assuredly dying. The Creator now establishes mercy. Instead of imposing the sentence immediately He by His own authority declares for all creation and for Lucifer to hear that He, The Creator, will provide One Who will pay the price for this “sin”(the breaking of the covenant) and all the sin that would ever be committed by mankind. But to show that a price must be paid The Creator sacrifices the life of an innocent animal (animals can not sin because they are not created in God’s image and therefore do not have the ability to choose to obey or not to obey). He takes the skin of the sacrifice and clothes the man and his wife. Death had now entered into creation because of sin. God showed mercy in that He delayed the final judgment for sin until His promised sacrifice would be paid by His only-begotten Son. To state it clearly, mercy is judgment delayed. It is not the same as grace.
In 2 Peter 3:9 the scripture defines it this way: The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
So, to remind His highest creation that He was delaying that final judgment until His promised sacrifice would come and pay the ultimate price for mankind’s sin, He instituted a ritual of animal sacrifice in which an innocent creature was put to death symbolizing the death of the One Who would pay the total price for rebellion and sin.
How is grace contrasted to mercy? As I said earlier, grace and mercy are not the same. Mercy delays final judgment, looking forward to the time of total payment, whereas grace is a once and for all total application of a declaration being totally just and in perfect standing in a covenant relationship. Grace firmly cries out that the recipient is sinless and perfect before his Creator in every aspect. Who declares that? His Creator declares it.
Romans 8:1 says it this way in the New King James Version Bible, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” This is what grace does; it declares NOW, right now, not some future time in heaven, but right now the person who is in Christ Jesus is declared perfect. Grace does not put on a false humility by declaring “that we are all sinners”, because that would be the One Who paid the price for sin to contradict Himself in so saying. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Paul the apostle pens, “For He(God) made Him(Jesus) Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in Him.” That term “righteous” means “right standing in a covenant relationship”. We, who are in Christ Jesus have been restored to the Adamic relationship which existed in The Garden of Eden before the Fall.
The confusion comes because most do not understand how we are sinners in the first place. The false humility of declaring that we are all sinners comes because of the scripture in Romans 3:23 where Paul writes, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That is correct. We were all born “sinners” because we are descendants of Adam. You do not have to do one single act to be declared a sinner. All have to do is be born a human being. But do you have to remain a sinner? Not according to the scripture.
What brought about sin originally? It was the breaking of the covenant in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now, if in Christ Jesus we have been declared to be in right standing in this New and Better Covenant, for me to declare myself a sinner would be a slap in the face of my Lord Jesus Who Himself paid the terrible price that I might be declared righteous through faith in Him. Here is what it says in 1 John 3:
1 John 3:1-10 (KJV)
1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we
should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it
knew him not.
2 Beloved, now are we
the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that,
when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
3 And every man that hath this hope
in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the
law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in
him is no sin.
6 Whosoever abideth in
him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
7 Little children, let no man deceive
you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
8 He that committeth sin is of the
devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God
was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for
his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10 In this the children of God are
manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is
not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
Verse 6 says that whoever abides in Jesus does not sin. But it does not equate sin with actions but with “right standing in a covenant relationship”, righteousness.
Where does grace fit in. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourself, it is the GIFT(GRACE) of God.” There was no way you could ever merit this right standing in this covenant so by entering in to Christ Jesus, Who did merit it, you get what Jesus received for you.
The only way you could become a sinner again is if you could undo the work which Jesus did for you, and all mankind, on the cross when He received the punishment due a covenant breaker so that you could receive the blessings of one who has right standing in a covenant with the Creator of the universe. To find the terms of the covenant, good and bad, all you have to do is check it out. All the good that Jesus purchased are written down so that there is no mistake as to what the terms are. I encourage you to read it for yourself. It is not so complicated as some lawyers would write it, but it is straight forward and easy to understand. (Do not let a theologian tell you what it says. They are indoctrinated to what other men say.)
Do not take my word for what grace means. The Holy Spirit(Who is Christ in You) will tell you precisely what it is, but I shall share with you what The Holy Spirit gave me to understand what grace is for me. He gave me this phrase: Grace is God’s eager willingness to do good for me.” The Holy Spirit did not tell me I had to beg God to do good for me or promise I would do something for Him if He would do good for me. That is not the God of the Bible. The Holy Spirit impressed upon me that God is so eager to bless me that all I have to do is take Him at His Word and it is done. That sounds like faith, and it is. But we shall address that in another blog
God bless you and may He open your eyes to His Word and His great love for you.
Hear this beautiful anthem, My Eternal King, by Jane Marshall.