Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. In Christ, we have both mercy and grace!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
By grace we have been saved. By the grace of Jesus Christ, dying on the Cross in our place, we receive salvation – forgiveness for all our sins and freedom from the power of sin itself. We get what we don’t deserve. It is, as Paul says, “the gift of God – not by works.” We don’t earn forgiveness. God doesn’t owe us salvation because we work hard to be good people. God grants us salvation by sheer grace. He forgives us because He is the Forgiver, not because we deserve it. Why would God do such a radical thing? Because He loves us!
Birthday and Christmas presents, given in love, are acts of grace. All through the year, Shirley keeps an eye out for little toys and gifts that might be stocking stuffers for our grandchildren when Christmas comes. She’s watching for things that fit their interests – unicorns for Ashlyn, Paw Patrol for Eli, etc. We don’t give them Christmas gifts because they FaceTime us at least once a month. They don’t get birthday gifts because they help sweep the floors or clean the bathroom. We give because we love them. That’s grace, and that’s exactly what God has done for us in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to make available to any who have faith in Him the incredible gift of redemption.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 NIV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NIV)
We have a sin problem. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. From the first sin – when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit – throughout all human history, sin has infected the human race. We are born in sin. We who bear the image of the God who made us also bear the mark of rebellion and disobedience. Instead of being inclined to love and obey God, we are inclined, by genetics and by the influence of our upbringing, to love ourselves and disobey Him. We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.
In and of itself, the universal nature of sin just means we’re all in the same boat. No one is perfect and all sin, so no one is inherently superior to anyone else. But there is a much bigger problem involved in the universality of sin. Sin has consequences. Sin produces death. Rebelling against God – who is Life – brings death. Without the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, we are literally dead men walking. We are physically alive but spiritually dead. This God who is pure Love is also pure Holiness. Scripture makes this radical claim about the goodness of our good works:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
God looks at the heart, and sees that all our good and right deeds are tainted by the motivations behind them. We self evaluate our lives as being mostly good with a few mistakes thrown in. God sees all the times we help because we want to earn the good graces of the person we help and sees the selfishness behind the deed. No one can claim both perfection in deed and perfect love in motivation, and that is why our good works cannot save us – only God can. And so in Christ, we have mercy. We don’t get the death penalty we deserve because Jesus went to the Cross and died in our place.
A judge sees the remorse and hears testimony of the overall good character of a defendant who has committed a non-violent crime and suspends the sentence. The defendant deserved a fine or jail time. But the judge gives mercy. The defendant does not get what he deserves.
Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. In Christ, we have both mercy and grace! And that’s good reason to follow Him as Savior and Lord for the rest of our lives, and into eternity!