Bible Study Blog

The Distinction Between God’s Mercy and Grace

by Jeff Reed

We usually think of mercy and grace as the same thing, but there is an important distinction. I’ll give you a personal example to illustrate this. Several years ago I was pulled over for speeding. I was on a four lane divided highway early in the morning driving a very reasonable speed of 55 mph. Unfortunately for me the legal speed was 30 mph. There is a terrible feeling that accompanies the flashing blue lights in your rear view mirror. That feeling for me embodies the terror of paying several hundred dollars for a speeding ticket and thousands of dollars in increased car insurance premiums. A mistake like this could be very costly. I was pretty afraid.

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I pulled over and gave the state trooper my license. My hand was visibly shaking. He walked back to his vehicle for several minutes as my blood pressure steadily rose. Then he suddenly returned with a written warning. What happened? I deserved a ticket. Probably a very large one due to the fact I exceeded the speed limit by 25 mph. But the trooper showed me mercy! I was extremely delighted and relieved.

Now if he would have also showed me grace, he would have given me a hundred dollars from his own wallet. Of course that didn’t happen. That is the difference between mercy and grace. Mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve. Grace is receiving something we have not earned. Fortunately for us, God is full of mercy and grace.

His mercy applies to the forgiveness of our sins. When we repent, accept Christ as our Savior, and are baptized He shows us mercy.

“Who is a God like You,

Pardoning iniquity

And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?

He does not retain His anger forever,

Because He delights in mercy. 

He will again have compassion on us,

And will subdue our iniquities.

You will cast all our sins

Into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18–19).

And He continues to show us mercy throughout our life (Hebrews 4:16).

But He also provides us grace. He gives us things we do not deserve and could never earn. And when we try to quantify it we realize just how generous our Heavenly Father is toward us. In Romans 6:3, we are told that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The common assumption that we already have an immortal soul takes away from understanding the magnitude of this. Humans are not inherently immortal but God promises this trait to His servants. Eternal life in God’s Kingdom is a tremendously generous gift. There is no possible way we could put a value on it. He will be literally making us a child in His family. It is the only thing in life we can truly describe as priceless.

God’s grace toward us is not limited only to the future. We experience much of it now. Even our faith is a gift from God.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). 

In fact, all of the fruit of God’s Spirit are endowments of God’s grace. The Holy Spirit in us is an inexpressible gift. Even the law of God shows His grace in our lives. One of the greatest underserved gifts that we can now experience is His Sabbath day. There are those who do not keep it that think of it as a burden. That is an ignorant outlook. Those of us who observe it understand it is the very expression of God’s grace. I remember how weary my life was without it. And I remember many a stressful Friday evening when I was so glad it came.

We should be overjoyed for His bountiful mercy. We deserve the punishment but Jesus paid the price. And it cannot be described in words how wonderful it feels to be a recipient of God’s grace. He gives us so much we do not deserve.

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4–7).