Christians often differentiate the terms “mercy” and “grace” in the following way: “mercy” is not receiving the bad that we do deserve and “grace” is receiving the good that we we do not deserve. While this distinction is adequate, the biblical Hebrew and Greek terms actually have broader and even overlapping meanings: “mercy” is simply “compassion” or “strong feelings,” especially for those suffering or in trouble; while “grace” simply means “favor.” When it comes to God, his mercy and grace are without regard to merit but instead according to his own character. God innately is merciful and gracious, thus he has compassion and favor on those who do not deserve it (Ex 34:6).
But on whom does God pour out his mercy and grace? All God’s creatures experience his compassion and favor to a certain extent (e.g. Acts 14:15-17), but God’s mercy and grace are especially reserved for those God has chosen for Himself in Christ (Jn 1:14; Rom 9:15-29). These are the ones whom God moves to respond to Christ’s gospel by faith and repentance and who will, therefore, experience God’s abundant kindnesses forever (Eph 1:3-14; 2:4-10). While the salvation call is given to all with a guarantee of compassion and pardon to those who respond (Mt 11:28-30; Isa 55:6-7), only those whom God Himself draws will actually turn and come to enjoy his lovingkindness (Jn 6:44; Lk 14:16-24).
If you’re in Christ, then, understand that you are the object of God’s unending mercy and grace! But do you believe this? Are you confident in this?
Considering the state of our country, many are praying for God’s mercy, especially on his church. But will God show us mercy? The words of A. W. Tozer in his The Knowledge of the Holy are very insightful here. These come from his chapter on the mercy of God:
“Kyrie eleison! Christe eleison! [Greek for ‘Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy!’]” the Church has pleaded through the centuries; but if I mistake not I hear in the voice of her pleading a note of sadness and despair. Her plaintive cry, so often repeated in that tone of resigned dejection, compels one to infer that she is praying for a boon she never actually expects to receive. She may go on dutifully to sing of the greatness of God and to recite the creed times beyond number, but her plea for mercy sounds like a forlorn hope and no more, as if mercy were a heavenly gift to be longed for but never really enjoyed.
Could our failure to capture the pure joy of mercy consciously experienced be the result of our unbelief or our ignorance, or both? It was so once in Israel. “I bear them record,” Paul testified of Israel, “that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” They failed because there was at least one thing they did not know, one thing that would have made the difference.
And of Israel in the wilderness the Hebrew writer says, “But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” To receive mercy we must first know that God is merciful. And it is not enough to believe that He once showed mercy to Noah or Abraham or David and will again show mercy in some happy future day. We must believe that God’s mercy is boundless, free and, through Jesus Christ our Lord, available to us now in our present situation.
We may plead for mercy for a lifetime in unbelief, and at the end of our days be still no more than sadly hopeful that we shall somewhere, sometime, receive it. This is to starve to death just outside the banquet hall in which we have been warmly invited. Or we may, if we will, lay hold on the mercy of God by faith, enter the hall, and sit down with the bold and avid souls who will not allow diffidence and unbelief to keep them from the feast of fat things prepared for them.
Questions to Consider:
1. Are you in Christ and experiencing his grace and mercy? Might God be drawing you today to repent and believe?
2. As a Christian, when you pray for God’s mercy, do you expect that you will receive it?
3. How should we respond when God shows us mercy that is painful? Consider James 1:2-4, Heb 12:1-13, Ps 119:65-72, and Lam 3:19-38.