Mercy and Grace – Part 1: The Distinction
Mercy and Grace
Part 1: The Distinction
Guest Blogger: Phil Powell
Most Christians I know take great comfort and find welcomed relief in Romans 6:14b. “…you are not under law, but under grace.” We tend to gloss over or flatly ignore the surrounding versus including the first half of that same verse that declares, “For sin shall not be your master,” let alone the following verse, “What then, shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”
Our struggle is this. We have accepted the gift of Christ from the Father, but we see in our lives that we still go on sinning, perhaps less or differently than before, but in the light of Christ we still see our darkness. The sinless life of Christ acts as the same plumb bob as the Law that exposes the fact that our lives do not line up with God’s requirement of holiness. For the most part, we have justified our sinning condition by declaring our position in Christ and rejoicing that we are no longer under the Law meaning, in our minds, we no longer have to do what the Law says because we are under grace. But here’s the rub. The Father gave us more commands through Jesus Christ than He did through Moses. The Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commands.” If we are even slightly familiar with the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John this should be a frightening prospect.
Of course, Isaiah 53:5 says He took our punishment. Yes! Praise God! Our position with the Father, lost through Adam, has been restored through the sin offering of Christ. We have been reconciled back to our Father. Because of the death of Christ the veil between us and our Holy Father has been ripped in two and we are now seated in Heavenly places with Christ. Because of the cross and the shed blood of Christ the sacrificial Lamb, and through our faith in that sacrifice, our position is established. Again, praise God!
Isn’t that enough? Now that that’s settled, can’t I push on through life doing as much good as I can to show Him how much I appreciate my “avoid hell free” ticket and what He did to obtain it for me? This is the mercy of the cross: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
But there is something more. Through faith we died with Christ. Anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Rom. 6:6) We have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Rom. 6:18) Paul’s instruction is to offer the parts of your body in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness, not to impurity as you used to do. (Rom. 6:19) We are not free from the consequences of sin, for we shall reap what we sow. (Gal. 6:7, 8) He that sows to please his sinful nature will reap destruction; he that sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life. “…do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” (Gal. 5:13) “…live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (or flesh).” (Gal. 5:16).
However, if we are honest with ourselves, we know we are frustrated that so many of the desires of our flesh still control us.
“Why, if I am seated with Christ in Heavenly places, do I still get so angry when someone obstructs or hinders my pursuit of what I want? Why am I so dissatisfied and want more or different than what I have? Why do I still gravitate to those familiar sins that gratify my flesh? Why do I try so hard to get people to think highly of me? Why do I worry about tomorrow?”
Why would Jesus tell us not to do these things knowing we couldn’t even keep the Ten Commandments much less the scores of Christ’s commandments?
I submit that Grace has lost its effectualness for us because we have confused it with mercy. We cannot have faith in something we’re not aware of. As long as we think being “under Grace” simply means the penalty for our sins has been paid, doing away with the consequences of sin, the true power of Grace is rendered impotent by my lack of faith through which Grace is made effective. Let me explain.
Mercy is defined by the modern dictionary as “compassionate treatment of an offender. A disposition to be kind and forgiving.” The Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines mercy as “that benevolence, mildness, or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries or to treat an offender better than he deserves. The disposition that tempers justice and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and to forebear judgment.”
In the Old Testament, the Lord often referred to having mercy on someone. The Psalmist repeats many times “His mercy endures forever.” The original Hebrew word translated as mercy refers to favor, kindness, pity, and compassion.
It was because of God’s mercy that He gave the Law. His people needed to know what sin is in order to see how their lives contrasted with and were at enmity with their Holy God. His goal was for the creation to ultimately be reconciled to its Creator so that, once again, the Creator might indwell His creation. Without the Law, His people couldn’t know what sin was, nor realize their need of a Savior.
In the New Testament, the original Greek word translated as mercy also means to have compassion or pity on someone. Many times those who needed healing or deliverance cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me;” an inducement to show compassion or mercy by doing something.
Paul greets both Timothy and Titus with “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.” Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find Grace to help in time of need. So, there is obviously a distinction between mercy and Grace.
It is the great, forever enduring mercy of God that motivated Him to send His son to take the punishment for our sins and reconcile us to Himself through the death of Jesus. We know from Romans 5:10 and others, that through His death and our faith in His death we are brought back into right position with God; new wine skins ready to receive the new wine.
So there was mercy under the old covenant of the Law and there is mercy under the new covenant of Grace. But the story does not stop on the cross. It doesn’t stop with the atoning blood. It doesn’t stop even with the tearing open of the veil of the temple giving us access to the holiest of holies. No. After the cross is the resurrection! Christ made alive to indwell us with His Life. Romans 5:10 goes on to say, “…having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” “Saved” is translated from the Greek word sozo, meaning to be healed, made whole, and made complete. This is accomplished by Christ’s Life.
COMING SOON: Mercy and Grace – Part 2: Welcome To Grace!
Guest Blogger, Phil Powell, is a husband, father, and grandfather; entrepreneur, business owner, community & church leader, mentor, faithful Berean, and passionate lover of Christ. Phil resides in rural west Georgia with his wife of 40 years, and attends The Church at Chapelhill in Douglasville.