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Grace and Mercy: What's the Difference?

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

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Grace and mercy are often confused. The terms have similar meanings because they are gifts from God, but they are not the same.

Some people don't realize that there is a very big difference between grace and mercy. Since grace and mercy are two different things, the words should not be used interchangeably.

Both grace and mercy are common and prevalent themes throughout the Bible.

Grace: Definition

According to the dictionary, grace is God's free and unmerited favor. As such, it is the salvation of sinners and blessings bestowed on people even when they don't deserve them.

In order to understand what grace really means, it would be helpful to know what the word means in its original Hebrew and Greek.

The Hebrew word often used in the Old Testament is the word chesed. It denotes deliverance from enemies, adversity, and affliction. It is related to receiving blessings from God when they are not deserved. The word is recorded 39 times in the Old Testament.

The Greek word often used in the New Testament is the word charis. It focuses on what comes with the salvation package. The word is recorded 131 times in the New Testament.

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What the Bible Says About God's Grace

Grace means God's unmerited favor that He dispenses on people even when they do not deserve it. However, God does not withhold His love or blessing from them. That's why it is defined as "unmerited." There is nothing people can do to make God love them or bless them less. On the other hand, there is nothing they can do to make God love them or bless them more. God's grace is solely dependent on God. However, some people believe that grace is given by God based on the faith of the believer.

There is no limit on God's love because He has enough to go around to all people. A scripture in the Bible refers to the "riches of God's grace. According to Ephesians 1:7, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace."

Grace plays a major part in our salvation. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8)

We deserve nothing from God. All the good things we get from God is a result of the grace of God, according to Ephesians 2:5.

Mercy: Definition

According to the dictionary, mercy is compassion shown toward a person when punishment is warranted.

"Mercy" is more often connected to the withholding of judgment "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (James 2:13).

We can't work our way into getting mercy. According to Romans 9:15, "For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” In other words, mercy comes from a merciful God.

We cannot earn God's grace. We cannot earn God's mercy. Both are free gifts from God.

What the Bible Says About Mercy

The English word for mercy appears about 454 times in the Bible. Of those times, there are four Hebrew words associated with mercy and three Greek words. At times, the words can be translated as "kindness," "lovingkindness," "goodness," "favor," "compassion," and "pity." Mercy is a gift from God that has to do with compassion, forgiveness, and leniency when judgments and punishments are deserved.

The word "mercy" is so prevalent in the Bible that it appears in 50 of the 66 books. Only 16 of the books do not record the word.

  • "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23).
  • "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children" (Psalm 103:17).
  • "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Psalm 145:9).
  • Psalm 136 repeats the expression "for His mercy endureth forever" in all of its 26 verses.

Grace and Mercy

Often the Bible speaks "grace" and "mercy" as companion words. Even though the words are often used together, they are not synonyms. Grace and mercy are similar because they both are free gifts from God. God dispenses them without any work from people.

Grace is the unmerited favor from God much like His divine assistance. Grace is what people get from God when they do not deserve it. On the other hand, mercy is what people receive when they do not get what they deserve. That's why when people are in trouble, they cry out, "Lord, have mercy on me."

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In Psalm 51:1, David cries out, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love." That was the psalmist's plea to God to withhold the judgment he deserved. Instead, David wanted forgiveness that he didn't deserve.

Sometimes grace and mercy are used in the same scripture as two separate gifts from God.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

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Summary

People should remember that there is a big difference between grace and mercy. Grace is a blessing from God that we do not deserve. Mercy is God not giving people the punishment that they do deserve.

It is safe and correct to say that grace is God's kindness to those who do not deserve it. Mercy is the act of God withholding judgment from those who do deserve it.

Comments

Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on November 19, 2018:

WOW! Dexter, I enjoyed reading your comments. They were so on point. Thank you so much for reading and responding.

I look forward to reading more of your opinions.

Dexter Whinfield from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on November 19, 2018:

Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece, so simple, but yet profound in the message it conveys. I really do love your explanation about grace and mercy. Great job.

"God's grace is solely dependent on God. However, some people believe that grace is given by God based on the faith of the believer."

I totally agree with the above statement, but I just want to add my two cents to it.

While we can't make demands on God to be more gracious to us based on our faith, we can, however, through Jesus Christ gain access to all of God's grace by our faith.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in the hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2).