Mercy and Grace – huge concepts for Christians and a foundational part of who God is. “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). Before we focus on mercy, let’s take a second to talk about the difference between them. It’s important to realize mercy and grace aren’t interchangeable because they’re not the same.
Think of mercy as not being punished when we do deserve it – God delivering us from judgment.
Think of grace as being rewarded when we don’t deserve it – God blessing the unworthy.
You can be the best person, the most devoted Christ follower, and a consistent church attender. But without Jesus you’re always going to be unworthy. We can thank sin for that.
“. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
A Prayer for Mercy
“Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” Lord, like David in Psalms 4, we cry out to you as our authority and the author of true mercy. Thank You for being a God of compassion and love. Life is hard enough without constantly being afraid of a God who’s out to get me.
Help me see what you want me to see when You don’t lift the consequences of my actions. Help me to pay it forward to others when you do. Be that constant voice inside my head and the soothing arms around my heart. Mercy is a gift. Never let me forget to mirror to others the compassion You’ve shown me.
What Is Mercy?
As I dug deeper into understanding exactly what mercy means to me, I found some important elements in the full definition.
Mercy is not being punished when I deserve it—by someone who has the right to punish me.
The first part, not being punished, reassures me of God’s compassion. No matter how much I grow in Christ, until I get to heaven, I’m still going to fail. I’m going to disappoint my friends, my family, and my God. Bad things happen. Life moves takes me to into places I don’t want to go. I don’t always handle well what’s thrown at me. That’s why I’m grateful for God’s heart. It’s something I refuse to let myself take for granted. He loves me. No. Matter. What. I can’t say that about anyone else in my life, even those who care about me the most.
The second, when I deserve it, reminds me that mercy is for people who deserve to be punished. That’s me. And . . . wait for it . . . it’s you too. It’s pretty much all of us at one time or another, Christian or not. Good people aren’t perfect people. Perfection is reserved for God.
The third, by someone who has the right to punish me, was new for me. In order to show me mercy, someone must hold real power or authority over me. This puts God’s mercy exactly where it needs to be – in His control. God is my ultimate authority, and if you’re a Christian, He’s yours too.
Why Do We Need Mercy?
The go-to answer points to salvations. Purposefully or accidentally, we mess up. Daily. And daily, He releases us from the ultimate punishment we deserve—being eternally separated from Him. That’s where Jesus comes in. He paid the consequences with His death because we couldn’t.
But there’s also something else. Back to those consequences I deserve. I tend to breeze by the times I don’t “get caught” and dwell on the times I do. If I really think about it, God “lets me off” more often than he makes me live in the repercussions of my bad or stupid decisions, or He only asks me to pay the interest on the consequences I’ve earned rather than the total. I’ll be honest. I don’t always understand the logic behind which times are what, but I do know through experience that God uses every situation for His glory and to expand my faith.
I’m so glad He gets that sometimes I need a hug instead of a punishment. A little mercy can go a long way in a soft heart. Parents know this about their kids. And so much more than I know the hearts of my children, He knows mine.