The idea of mercy seems to be altogether unappreciated these days. As opposed to our spiritual heritage, mercy is something of an unwanted second child in contemporary Christian circles in that it doesn’t get the same attention as grace does. Grace and mercy are often thought of together but, in this equation, mercy often seems to live in grace’s shadow. Yet, along with its sibling grace, mercy is one the most significant ways that God has shown favor and blessing to his children. Interestingly, in the King James Version of the Bible, the word “mercy” is found over 260 times and “grace” only about 170.
We have all heard that mercy and grace are two sides of the same coin. If we have ever been in church for any length of time we probably know the definitions by heart. Grace is unmerited favor, an undeserved gift from God. Mercy, on the flip side, is the withholding of God’s righteous judgment towards sinners in that he doesn’t punish us for our transgressions – instead He recognizes the righteousness of Christ instead of our filthy rags.
But that’s only part of the story when it comes to the gift of mercy. It has a richer meaning than just the suppression of God’s righteous anger towards rebels who deserve punishment. It is more than what God hasn’t done (punished us eternally). Mercy is also positive in that it is something God does for us that demonstrates His love and compassion. According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “mercy” is defined as: “a form of love determined by the state or condition of its objects. Their state is one of suffering and need, while they may be unworthy or ill-deserving. Mercy is, at once the disposition of love respecting such, and the kindly ministry of love for their relief.”
So mercy is God actively involved in our lives, showing goodness to us in every sphere of our need – physical, emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual. This is God demonstrating His providential care and intervening with both blessings and patience.
We can learn some simple but pivotal principles about mercy from Scripture:
- God has shown us mercy – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
- The more we understand God’s mercy, the we more we show mercy to others (kindness, forgiveness, goodness) – “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
- The more we show mercy to others, the more we appreciate God’s mercy towards us – “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
- Mercy is evidence of God’s covenant companionship and communion with His people – “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:31).
- God’s mercy (and ours) is a visible manifestation of His love and heralds the good news of the Gospel – “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinner” (Matthew 9:23).
- There is no such thing as mercy without grace, or grace without mercy – “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7).
There are two simple truths we can take from this that might help us embrace and exalt the example of our great God:
• Our God is a God of magnificent mercy:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 2:22-24).
• We are to magnify Him by multiplying His mercy:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
It is good that we think of mercy when we think of grace…and grace when we think of mercy. But it is better to live out mercy and grace as a reflection of who our Lord is and what He has done for us.