I’ve realised lately that the Church is in love with a particular word: GRACE
This is a fantastic word. To quote one of the kids praise songs I grew up with,
“Grace is when God gives us the things we don’t deserve.”David Mudie, Paul Crouch © 1989 Daybreak Music/Elevation
God’s grace is the reason He has given us eternal life. It is in His very character. We see that grace all through the Bible:
- Saving Noah and his family
- Sarah and Abraham having a son
- Israel making it into the Promised Land
- Rahab being brought into God’s People
- Matthew the tax collector becoming a disciple
- The choice of Paul as an apostle
But grace is not the whole of God’s character. Think of it like a coin with two faces. (If at this point any Batman or Merlin references came to mind, have a quick grin at your brilliant geekiness.) On a British coin, we have the queen’s profile on one side and then another image on the other. They are different yet part of the same whole. While God’s character is infinitely more complicated and multi-faceted than a coin, this is a fantastic place to start from when describing mercy and grace.
You see, the other line I remember from that kids praise song was this:
“Mercy is when God does not give us what we deserve.”David Mudie, Paul Crouch © 1989 Daybreak Music/Elevation
It is so easy to focus on grace because we love gifts. That is exactly what grace is; God’s gift to us of eternal life. The moment that Jesus rose from the dead, victorious having defeated sin and Satan, we were given eternal life free from death (John 3:16). No pits or gnashing of teeth for those who accept and follow Christ (Matthew 13:36-43).
Yet grace remains only half the picture, just as Easter Sunday is only half of the Easter story. What about Good Friday, the pain of the crucifixion, and mercy? Or how about the very reason that Jesus died on the cross for us was so that we would not die (the punishment we deserve for sin)? The cross is the defining image of mercy because it was there that God took what we, humanity, deserved and put it all on His only Son.
Grace isn’t enough because it is only half the picture. Admittedly, it is the half that we prefer. It’s the rays of light and reflections on water in a beautiful painting. Yet you can’t have a painting that only shows light. The subject would have no definition because there wouldn’t be any contrast. Mercy provides that definition in our lives. It is the shadow of what could have been and the joy of realising, understanding, and knowing we are saved from it.
The crazy thing is that the Early Church knew this about mercy. They knew that God saved us through His unrelenting mercy as much as He did through His all-encompassing grace. So because there are no words left for right now to explain just how amazing mercy is, here are a few that they used:
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.Ephesians 2v3-5
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 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, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.Titus 3v4-7
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.Hebrew 4v16
Each of these passages comes as a package: MERCY AND GRACE. One picture of God’s good good love for His children. Grace is not enough but neither is mercy. We need them both as a gift from God.