Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.
As believers, we’ve heard the words mercy and grace many times. And even more, we’ve been the recipients of God’s mercy and grace. But have we stopped to really think about the difference between the two? Have we considered just how merciful our God is to us and why?
Mercy is what’s extended to someone in a helpless state, without a glimmer of hope. This was surely our case as sinners. God had mercy on us in our fallen, pitiful condition so He could save us. And His mercy continues to be ours to experience in our Christian life day after day.
In this post we’ll see the source of God’s mercy, the reach of God’s mercy, and how it brings us to a position where we can receive Him as grace.
What’s the source of God’s mercy?
Ephesians 2:4-5 say,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in offenses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
The source of God’s rich mercy upon us is His great love for us, which eventually brings about our being saved by His grace. Just how rich is this mercy? Let’s take a step back to see our state before we were saved that first required God’s mercy.
In verses 1-3 Paul gives a detailed account of our pitiful condition before God as unbelievers:
“And you, though dead in your offenses and sins, in which you once walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, of the spirit which is now operating in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all conducted ourselves once in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
How incredibly wretched we were! We were dead in our offenses and sins and by our fallen nature we were children of wrath! God was willing and able to save us from this state, so first He bestowed His rich mercy upon us.
The apostle Paul, who wrote Ephesians, was himself a compelling example of a Christian who understood the extent of God’s mercy. In 1 Timothy 1:13 he tells us he “formerly was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and an insulting person,” and his testimony was this: “I was shown mercy.” Note 3 in the New Testament Recovery Version on mercy says,
“Saul, a blasphemer and a persecutor, first was shown mercy and then received grace (v. 14). Mercy reaches farther toward the unworthy one than grace does. Because Saul was one who blasphemed God and persecuted man, God’s mercy reached him before the Lord’s grace did.”
God’s mercy was able to reach even a person who blasphemed God and persecuted the believers of Jesus! This is how rich God’s mercy is and how far it can reach. It reaches the most unworthy, the seemingly unreachable.
The goal of God’s mercy
Paul, before his conversion, surely needed God’s mercy. However, the mercy God had on Paul wasn’t just to bring him out of being a blasphemer and insulting person, but also to bring him into a position where He could receive God’s grace.
The source of God’s mercy is God’s love, and the goal of God’s mercy is to bring us to a state where we can enjoy God’s grace. To illustrate, let’s say you were nearly drowning, with no hope of rescue. If someone pulls you out of the water, that would be a needed act of mercy. That mercy reaches you in your desperate, helpless situation. Let’s say once you’re on land and in a normal condition, your rescuer then gives you a beautiful watch as a gift. That gift represents grace. You first needed mercy in order to enjoy the grace.
Mercy brings us unworthy, hopeless ones to a place where we’re qualified to participate in God’s grace!
Receiving God’s mercy and grace isn’t only for the day we’re first saved, but even for every day of our Christian life after that. Hebrews 4:16 was written to believers and exhorts us,
“Let us therefore come forward with boldness to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace for timely help.”
Notice that the verse first says, “receive mercy” and then says, “and find grace.” When we come forward to the throne of grace, we first receive His mercy in order to find grace for our timely help.
God’s aim in granting us mercy is so we would come forward to Him to enjoy Him as grace. Both His mercy and His grace are great treasures to us.
Two testimonies of God’s mercy in the New Testament
Though the Bible tells us of many cases of the Lord’s mercy on all kinds of people, we’ll focus on just two outstanding cases in the New Testament.
Matthew 9 gives the account of Matthew the tax collector, a person in desperate need of God’s mercy. Despised to the uttermost by his fellow Jews, who saw him as a traitor because he collected taxes for the hated imperialist Romans, Matthew was considered the lowest of the low. He didn’t seem to be the type of man who was fit to follow after Jesus. But while he was sitting at the tax office, the Lord Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Because the Lord’s mercy reached him, Matthew dropped everything and followed the Lord Jesus. The Lord didn’t give up on this despised person. Instead, how tender, and full of compassion He was, calling a person like Matthew not only to follow Him, but to even be one of His disciples! Out of God’s great love for us, He reaches us as mercy. This experience is utterly disarming. Like Matthew, we can’t help but drop what we’re doing and follow Him.
Even though we follow the Lord and love Him, we often fail and fall away from His grace. In other words, we still need God’s mercy. A prime example of this is Peter. He surely loved the Lord Jesus and said as much. But he failed time and time again, reaching an all time low by denying three times that he knew the Lord, just as the Lord was being tried. After this, John 21 tells us the resurrected Lord came specifically to Peter and spoke intimately with him as they ate breakfast together on the beach. Through that conversation the Lord Jesus tenderly restored Peter. This was the Lord’s far-reaching mercy to Peter after his miserable failure. In this way, Peter was able to receive the Lord’s grace again.
We certainly try our best not to fail, but we still do. When this happens, God is always ready to forgive, and through confessing our sins to Him, He restores to us the joy of our salvation. His mercy, reaching even farther than His grace, meets us where we are to bring us back to Him so we can once more enjoy Him as our all-sufficient grace.
Experiencing mercy and grace in our daily lives
Note 2 on mercy from Hebrew 4:16 in the New Testament Recovery Version gives us a way to daily experience God’s mercy and grace:
“God’s mercy and grace are always available to us. However, we need to receive and find them by exercising our spirit to come to the throne of grace and contact our High Priest, who is touched with the feeling of all our weaknesses.”
One simple, yet effective way to exercise our spirit to receive mercy and grace is by calling on the name of Jesus. Romans 10:12 tells us He is “rich to all who call upon Him,” and Psalm 86:3 says He is “abundant in loving-kindness to all who call upon His name.”
When we feel like we’re in a situation we can’t get out of, or in a poor condition before God, we simply need to turn our heart to Him, and breathe Him in by calling on His name. Sometimes when we’re desperate, we may even cry out to the Lord. Right away, Christ will come to us in His rich mercy to bring us back to Himself so He can restore us and supply us. This is something we can practice daily in our Christian life to enjoy God’s mercy and grace.
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