A friend once described the difference between grace and mercy with this analogy: Mercy is withholding punishment when a person deserves it. Grace is giving favor (or goodness) to someone when they do not deserve it. When it comes to salvation, grace and mercy highlight the power of one another. With an incomplete understanding of mercy, one may be left to ask… am I simply an object of mercy, or am I one of God’s beloved? With a partial concept of grace, one may fail to grasp the freedom available to us when we repent of our sin.
Without one another, grace and mercy can be taken to the extremes. The person who latches on only to grace can find themselves lost in what is called “cheap grace”. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is:
“ the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
I have come to find that when God’s grace no longer ignites gratitude within me, I have forgotten how broken I am apart from God. I now realize that we only comprehend the unbelievable goodness of grace when we come to terms with how much they do not deserve it. Anything less than full acknowledgement of our brokenness reckons grace as a gift that has been earned by our own merit, therefore negating the very foundation of grace… a gift that no one could ever earn.
On the other hand, a misperception of mercy can cause someone to view themselves as “bad” or a “screw up”; as someone who God was kind enough to withhold punishment from, but would never want a loving, intimate relationship with. However, when grace opens our eyes, mercy will be seen as God’s first step to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him! The very thing blocking us from God (sin) is swept away by mercy so that God can now reach out and draw us close (grace).
Grace and mercy compliment one another. Together, they help us grasp how powerful God’s love is for us, and yet how much we could never earn it. Mercy is essential because it redirected the punishment we deserve to Jesus on the cross, making us justified before God. Grace is the greatest gift because it pours out God’s goodness on us like we had never sinned in the first place.
Grace & Mercy.