How Is Mercy Different from Grace, and Why Is It So Crucial to Christianity?

Through divine mercy, we are invited into a deeper relationship with God and empowered to embody His love and mercy in the world.

Contributing Writer
Updated Feb 23, 2024
How Is Mercy Different from Grace, and Why Is It So Crucial to Christianity?

Many people confuse mercy with grace. In speaking with a young man a few years ago, he gave me the definitions for both, but they were the same. Essentially, both meant “not getting what we deserve.” 

On one level, this is true. Yet grace and mercy are different forms of not getting what we deserve, and we require both. Grace and mercy work together, which is why we often see them mentioned together. 

Grace is God’s favor and power to enter into a relationship with him, which of course we can’t earn. Grace gives us good things we don’t deserve. 

But mercy is different. Oxford Dictionary defines mercy as, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.” Mercy, essentially, is not getting the punishment we deserve through forgiveness we don’t. 

God shows mercy. The top of the Ark of the Covenant, where God manifested his presence in the Holy of Holies, was called the Mercy Seat. What does divine mercy mean? 

What Does the Bible Say About Mercy? 

The Bible speaks extensively about mercy, portraying it as a foundational attribute of God’s character and a virtue to be practiced by believers. Mercy, often intertwined with compassion and forgiveness, is an expression of God’s loving kindness.

One of the most famous verses concerning mercy comes from Micah 6:8, where the prophet declares, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” For those of us who have been shown this mercy, we must walk in mercy with others. Therefore, mercy is a core aspect of righteous living, highlighting its importance alongside justice and humility.

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s mercy is demonstrated repeatedly in his interactions with his people. In Exodus 34:6-7, God reveals His character to Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.” God emphasizes mercy as a central aspect of His nature, characterized by compassion, patience, and forgiveness.

Moreover, the Psalms are replete with references to God’s mercy and steadfast love. Psalm 103:8 declares, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” This echoes the sentiments in Exodus—God’s mercy is an enduring attribute that extends to all generations.

In the New Testament, Jesus embodies the perfect expression of God’s mercy through his life, teachings, and ultimately His sacrificial death on the cross. In the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounces blessings upon the merciful, declaring, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). This statement underscores the reciprocal nature of mercy, highlighting the connection between extending mercy to others and receiving mercy from God.

Furthermore, Jesus’ parables often illustrate the importance of mercy and forgiveness. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), for example, Jesus portrays God’s extravagant mercy toward a wayward son who squanders his inheritance but is welcomed back with open arms by his loving father. This parable serves as a powerful reminder of God’s willingness to forgive and restore those who repent.

In addition to God's mercy, the Bible also calls us to embody mercy in our interactions with others. In Colossians 3:12, we are exhorted to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, reflecting the mercy we have received from God. Similarly, James 2:13 emphasizes the importance of showing mercy to others, declaring, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

What Does the Bible Say We All Deserve? 

In John 16, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit and explains the role the Spirit has with the world, the unsaved. The Holy Spirit will reveal sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come. The Spirit of Christ is righteousness, so when he shows himself to us, the contrast is clear. He is righteous, and we have fallen far short (Romans 3:23). Then God tells us of a future judgment where we will all be held accountable for our sins. 

Can we understand mercy without the truth of the punishment we deserve? God doesn’t think so. 

The Bible teaches that every human being deserves judgment and punishment for their sinfulness and rebellion against God. Consequently, the Bible portrays humanity as deserving of God’s wrath and condemnation due to our disobedience and rebellion against Him.

For example, in Ezekiel 18:4, the prophet declares, “For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.” This verse highlights personal responsibility for sin and the consequence of death that accompanies it. Similarly, the book of Psalms frequently depicts God’s righteous judgment upon the wicked. Psalm 7:11 declares, “God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day.” This verse underscores God’s role as a just judge who punishes sin and upholds His moral order.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul affirms the universality of sin and its consequences. In Romans 6:23, he writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This verse reveals the inevitability of death as the penalty for sin, contrasting it with the gift of eternal life offered through faith in Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, Paul describes humanity’s state apart from Christ as being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), emphasizing the spiritual death that results from sin. He also speaks of God's wrath being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18), indicating the seriousness of sin in God’s sight and the consequent judgment it incurs.

When God reveals the truth of the punishment we deserve, this is conviction, not condemnation. Conviction spurs to action and change. Condemnation can happen later, but Christ reveals these things to us to lead us to repentance to escape the judgment to come. For salvation, we must begin with the reality of what God saves us from, eternal punishment, but God didn’t send his Son to condemn the world. It’s already condemned (John 3:16-19). God sent Jesus to save the world. We are humbled and praise God for the mercy he shows us through Christ. 

What are Biblical Examples of Divine Mercy? 

Throughout the Bible, there are numerous examples of God demonstrating mercy towards humanity. 

One prominent example is found in the story of Noah and the ark. In Genesis 6-9, God observes the wickedness and corruption of humanity and decides to bring judgment upon the earth by sending a great flood. However, Noah finds favor in the eyes of God, and God instructs him to build an ark to save himself, his family, and representatives of every kind of animal. Despite humanity's sinfulness, God shows mercy by providing a way of escape for Noah and preserving life on earth. 

Another notable example of God’s mercy is seen in the story of Jonah. The prophet Jonah is sent by God to preach a message of judgment to the city of Nineveh because of its wickedness. However, when the people of Nineveh repent and turn from their evil ways, God relents from bringing disaster upon them. Jonah 3:10 states, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” This demonstrates God’s willingness to show mercy even to those who are undeserving.

Jesus’ interactions with sinners throughout the Gospels demonstrate God’s mercy in action. In John 8:1-11, Jesus shows mercy to a woman caught in adultery when he refuses to condemn her, instead telling her to go and sin no more. This act of mercy emphasizes God’s desire for repentance and restoration rather than judgment and condemnation.

Another example of God’s mercy is seen in the life of the Apostle Paul. Before his conversion, Paul, then known as Saul, was a persecutor of Christians. However, on the road to Damascus, Jesus appears to him in a vision, and Paul is transformed into a devoted follower of Christ. Despite Paul’s past actions, God shows him mercy by calling him to be an apostle and using him to spread the Gospel throughout the known world.

What Does Divine Mercy Mean for Us Today? 

Can God be both completely just and extend mercy? The answer is yes. 

First, we must understand God’s idea of justice. For God, justice isn’t primarily punitive. God designed all of Creation, including humanity, and called it good. Being a good God, he desires to bring all Creation out of corruption and into the right relationship with himself. God’s justice, therefore, is redemptive, the ultimate victory over all corruption. 

To accomplish this, he sent Jesus. Rebellion has occurred, and there is a cost: physical and spiritual death. Through Christ, he paid all the price, and we can be redeemed through the lamb who provided the payment with his blood and body. Through repentance, and turning to Jesus, we experience both forgiveness of our debts and physical and spiritual eternal life. Mercy and grace together as one. 

This divine mercy serves as a source of assurance, assuring us of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. Along with this trust in God’s love, mercy offers us hope, reminding us that no matter how far they may have strayed or how deep our sins may be, God’s mercy is available to them. Romans 5:8 affirms, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Divine mercy also plays a transformative role in our lives, inspiring us to extend grace and forgiveness to others. Ephesians 4:32 exhorts us to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Moreover, divine mercy serves as a catalyst for spiritual growth and renewal, prompting us to repent of our sins and turn back to God. 1 John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Lastly, divine mercy provides us with a framework for understanding and responding to suffering and injustice in the world. Micah 6:8 declares, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This verse emphasizes the importance of embodying mercy in our interactions with others, to seek redemption over punishment, particularly those who are marginalized or oppressed.

Through divine mercy, we are invited into a deeper relationship with God and empowered to embody His love and mercy in the world.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Javier_Art_Photography

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.


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