What Is The Difference Between Grace and Mercy?
Published September 9, 2023
Though often used interchangeably, “grace” and “mercy” differ in many ways.
In a nutshell, grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Grace is a gift we don’t deserve, while mercy is not getting the punishment we deserve.
Sounds confusing? Let’s break it down bit by bit.
In the dictionary, grace is defined as courteous goodwill. Meaning, it’s not asked for nor deserved, but is freely given. Mercy, on the other hand, is the compassion and kindness shown to someone whom it is in one’s power to punish or harm. It is an act meant to relieve someone of their suffering.
Let’s put it this way: suppose someone attempted to rob your house. You learned that the robber was just in a desperate situation and didn’t intend to do any harm at all. Instead of calling the police, you chose to pardon the thief and let the matter go – that’s mercy. Then you gave him some food and a few dollars to get him through this trying time – that’s grace.
In a world where mistakes are swiftly punished, and goodwill is only for the worthy, grace and mercy are an absolute necessity.
Grace vs. Mercy in the Scriptures
To give you a better idea of the difference between mercy and grace, let’s compare them from a Biblical perspective.
Grace in the Bible
In the Bible, grace refers to the free and unmerited favor of God towards humanity. It is a central theme in both the Old and New Testaments.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word often translated as “grace” is “חֵן” (chen), which can also mean “favor” or “charm”. It is used to describe instances where God shows favor to His people despite their flaws and shortcomings.
One example of this was when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments:
Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. “Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”
Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people, I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. (Exodus 34:8-10)
While in the New Testament, the Greek word for “grace” is “χάρις” (charis). The concept of grace is prominently revealed through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We believe that through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God’s grace is made accessible to all who believe in Him.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. (Titus 2:11)
This is why in Christian theology, grace is often classified into two types: common and saving grace. The former is universal. It’s God’s grace to all of humanity regardless of their faith in Him. Examples of common grace are the beauty of creation, the life we enjoy, and the resources we are provided. (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9)
A saving grace, meanwhile, is that which provides salvation to a person. This type of grace is manifested in Jesus Christ himself, whom He sent to save us all. (All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:24)
Mercy in the Bible
Mercy is often described in the Bible as God’s compassionate and forgiving nature and a virtue that humans are called to embody. It is closely related to forgiveness, compassion, and showing kindness to others.
There are four key aspects of mercy referred to in the Bible:
- God’s Mercy
The scriptures emphasize God’s limitless mercy and compassion towards humanity. This is demonstrated through His forgiveness, grace, and willingness to withhold punishment that humans deserve for their sins.
But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
- Human Mercy
The Bible also encourages us to be merciful towards others, just as God is merciful towards us. It calls for acts of kindness, forgiveness, and compassion towards those in need or who have wronged us.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)
- Mercy and Justice
The concept of mercy is often contrasted with justice in the Bible. While justice entails giving people what they deserve, mercy is about withholding deserved punishment or extending forgiveness instead.
Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)
- Mercy in Everyday Life
The Bible also teaches us that mercy should be a guiding principle in our daily interactions with others. It encourages us to show mercy to our enemies, strangers, the poor, and the marginalized.
On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. (Romans 12:20)
The Difference Between Grace and Mercy in the Bible
From the definitions above, we can infer that, from a biblical perspective, both “grace” and “mercy” are essential aspects of God’s character. They are interconnected, yet they represent distinct concepts.
Grace involves giving us blessings, salvation, and spiritual gifts that we do not deserve and cannot earn through our own efforts. It is a gift freely offered by God, motivated by His love and compassion for us.
Mercy, on the other hand, is about God’s compassion and leniency towards us, despite our sins. Through His mercy, God shows His willingness to forgive and restore those who genuinely seek Him with repentant hearts.
In short, God’s mercy allows us to repent and reconcile with Him. While His grace provides salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Examples of God’s Grace and Mercy in the Bible
One of the most prominent stories in the Bible that demonstrates God’s mercy and grace is that of King David. Despite being a great ruler, he was a fornicator and an adulterer. But he is not alone. Plenty of other bible characters have done something terrible at some point in their lives. Saul was a disbeliever, Moses was a doubter, and Jacob was a liar.
Despite this, God made them his witnesses and used them to accomplish His purpose. Not only did He forgive them, but He also endowed them with unmerited favor.
Like these Bible characters, we are all recipients of God’s mercy and grace. Despite having sinned over and over again, He has shown us kindness and compassion. He even sent his only son (John 3:16) so all of us can be saved – an act of grace that we do not deserve.
Responding to Grace and Mercy
Grace and mercy are undoubtedly God’s ultimate expression of love for us. But how should we respond to this undeserved kindness? The Bible teaches us of three ways: recognize, accept, and grow.
To be able to respond to his grace and mercy fully, we must first recognize our need for such. We must humbly accept that we are all sinners and imperfect, and everything we have is thanks to Him. Let us shed our pride and shift our focus away from ourselves. Only by doing so can we acknowledge His presence in our lives and all the blessings we’ve received from Him.
He has given His grace and mercy for free, never asking for anything in return. Thus, it’s only right to accept these acts of love with all our hearts. Wholehearted acceptance is the best way of showing our gratefulness for everything we’ve received.
When we accept his grace, we begin to grow in his love. In time, these seeds of love that He has planted in our hearts will take root and bear fruits. Through acts of kindness and compassion, we can spread to the world the grace and mercy that He generously gifted us.
Spreading God’s Grace and Mercy
Through our actions, may we inspire kindness, understanding, and forgiveness. Let our words and actions be a testament to the boundless grace that flows from above. As we carry the torch of God’s love, may we illuminate the darkness, spreading His mercy to all who cross our path.
Together, let us create ripples of compassion that touch lives, heal wounds, and draw others closer to the unfathomable depth of God’s mercy and grace.
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer and devoted Christian. She has a passion for writing about topics related to morality and helping the poor and homeless. She is the lead author for the Our Father’s House Soup Kitchen blog.
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