The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 145:8)
What exactly is the difference between grace and mercy?
And why does it even matter? Can’t we just use them interchangeably?
Nope. If we do, we miss out on some glorious truths.
God’s mercy and God’s grace are not the same things, though the differences are subtle, and they are often mentioned together.
In many ways they overlap; usually when God pours out his mercy, he pours out his grace as well.
Let’s dive into this a bit deeper.
Grace and Mercy Are Both Manifestations Of God’s Love and Compassion
Before we explore the glorious difference between grace and mercy, we need to see how they’re similar.
Neither are deserved. God has compassion on sinners who deserve his wrath.
Why? I don’t know.
And he is gracious as well to those who don’t love him and never thank him. But God pours out his mercy and grace especially on those he saves through Jesus.
The simplest way to understand the difference between grace and mercy is that they are flip sides of the coin of his love.
In other words, God’s mercy is NOT giving sinners what they DO DESERVE.
And God’s grace is POSITIVELY GIVING sinners what they DO NOT DESERVE.
The Glory Of God’s Mercy
The Hebrew for “merciful” means “compassionate” or “full of compassion.” It means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow”
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15)
This is mercy: We have all sinned against a holy God. We deserve eternal wrath in hell. But in his mercy, God poured out on Jesus the wrath we deserved on the cross, so we could escape his wrath.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
For reasons known only to God, though we had spit in his face, broken his laws, rejected him and disobeyed him, he had compassion on us.
God doesn’t take any pleasure in punishing people, even those who reject him and hate him outright. So in his mercy, he didn’t give us what we deserved, eternal punishment, his infinite wrath. Instead, in his mercy, he poured his wrath out on his beloved Son.
Jesus didn’t have to die for us. He didn’t have to pay for our sins. But our God is compassionate and merciful. So he didn’t give us what we deserved. He gave it to Jesus.
If this were all he had done, it would have been incredible. If God simply spared us from hell that would have been infinite mercy.
Even if he did nothing else for us. Even if we were to die then cease to exist. Even if we were to never go to heaven or know him.
It still would have been infinite mercy to us, to NOT give us what we DID DESERVE.
The difference between grace and mercy is that mercy is not getting what we deserve.
The Beauty of God’s Grace
But not only is God infinitely merciful, he is infinitely gracious. In his grace he not only withheld his wrath, but he positively saved us:
The Greek for “grace”, “charis” means: kindness, favor, “a gift or blessing brought to man by Jesus Christ”, or “kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved” (Strongs)
See the difference? In his mercy God withholds WHAT WE DO DESERVE; in his grace God heaps upon us infinite blessings WE DO NOT DESERVE. In mercy he withholds what we DID MERIT – eternal wrath; and in grace pours out upon us what we COULD NEVER MERIT: Eternal life, infinite joy, being one with Christ, being made like Christ.
Grace is God’s free gift of his undeserved, unmerited favor.
God’s grace is, “…the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues” (Strongs).
When we believe in Jesus, because of his mercy God does NOT give us what we deserve:
His wrath, eternal punishment in hell
And when we believe in Jesus, because of His grace, God gives us what we don’t deserve. He…
Gives us eternal life
Adopts us as his children
Makes us joint-heirs with Christ, gives us infinite riches in Christ
Gives us his Holy Spirit
Gives us power and victory over sin
Lives in us
Conforms us to Christ
Causes all things to work together for our good
Hears our prayers
Gives us gifts of the Spirit
Produces fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc.
Gives us good works to walk in
He will never remove his love from us
And someday we will see his face
And the list goes on and on….
And God doesn’t begrudgingly pour out his grace. He longs to pour it out upon us. Isaiah 30: 18 says “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.”
God is lavish with his grace. He doesn’t just give us a little. He pours it out:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us… (Ephesians 1:7-8)
So what should our response be to God’s amazing mercy and lavish grace he has heaped upon us?
I don’t have room in this post, but a few ways we should respond:
Wonder, amazement, praise and worship
Living wholeheartedly for the one who saved us
Imitating our God and being merciful and gracious to those who don’t deserve it
If you’ve never believed in Jesus, he offers you the free gift of his grace, because of all Jesus did.
He is the eternal God, yet became a man, lived a sinless life of perfect obedience to his Father, then bore our sins and God’s wrath on the cross.
Then he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven where he reigns as Lord of Lords.
And he promises that for all who believe in him and call upon him so save them he will have mercy on them, forgive their sins and give them eternal life and lavish his grace upon them.
He longs to lavish salvation on you. Don’t wait another day to believe in and call on him to save you!
The difference between grace and mercy is that grace is getting what we don’t deserve.
So What’s The Difference Between Grace and Mercy?
Both grace reveal the staggering, glorious, delightful character of God.
In his mind-boggling mercy, he doesn’t give us what we deserve. Rather, he gave that to Jesus.
In his outrageous, lavish grace, he gives us what we don’t deserve. He gives us the rewards earned by Jesus.
Is there anyone like our God?
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Saving Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have five children and five grandchildren.
Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.
This article originally appeared here. Used with permission.