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The Inseparability of Grace and Mercy

Written by Jeff Benson

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

~Matthew 5:7

 There is a deep question that we must address. Are we merciful? And from the beginning I should define what this means. I am not referring to the simple act of kindness towards our neighbor or a casual act. Rather I am referring to the kind of mercy that Jesus showed. The kind of mercy that reaches into the darkest parts of the world and extends love towards the unlovable, that forgives the unforgivable, and saves those who cannot be saved. This is the mercy that Christians should demonstrate, one that is sacrificial and actively demonstrated in daily life.

Yet before I become too deeply involved in mercy as a topic, it is necessary to first examine how grace is an inseparable part of mercy. Grace is a rather peculiar facet of the Christian faith, since no other faith or philosophy in the world has quite the emphasis like the Scriptures do. It is found throughout all of scripture and is consistently defined as an unmerited favor that is bestowed upon someone. It is in this unmerited favor that the true realizations of faith unfold.

If you and I were to meet—and I hope that we might one day, dear reader—and I were to, out of the blue, present you with your favorite kind of cake, it would probably strike you as a complete oddity. Apart from the fact that a man has somehow acquired knowledge of your favorite cake and has acquired it on your behalf, you may also puzzle as to what you’ve done to deserve this random act of “cake grace.” In time you may be able to rationalize that it’s because of what you did this past week or how you have accomplished so many great things. But of course that is simply not the case, for grace is not because of what you’ve done, it is rather a state of being of who you are. Remember, dear reader, that this is your favorite kind of cake, and there is nothing you have done to earn it, nor anything you can do to prevent it.

I hope that you begin to see that grace is a precursor to mercy, for it relies on inward identity instead of an outward expression. Consider then how an inward reality becomes an outward expression, for it is in this that we begin to demonstrate mercy. As stated earlier, it must not be a superficial mercy, because that is only indicative of a superficial understanding of grace. Instead, the extent of our mercy should be a direct result of the measure of grace in our lives.

As it turns out mercy, as it relates to the Christian faith, is equally as peculiar as grace. While grace is the free bestowing of something onto someone, mercy is its twin, that is, the withholding of something truly deserved as an act of love. Although one way to define mercy is “to have pity on someone”[1] let us not misunderstand the true meaning of the word. When Jesus describes mercy in the parable of the Good Samaritan he is referring to someone who did not just feel sorry for a man in distress, but who actively embraced the man in his circumstances and sought to alleviate his distress. The Samaritan demonstrated sacrificial mercy, by laying the injured man on his own animal, and paying, without question, for the man’s well-being even if it incurred a debt to him on his return journey.

Likewise the role of mercy in our lives is not to be some sort of tear-ridden event with someone—though there is a time and a place—rather it is an active role that seeks to remove the source of suffering and restore the individual to wholeness. One way in particular that I find helpful when understanding mercy is when the word is translated as “lovingkindness,” which recognizes that helping to correct the misery in someone’s life is in fact an act of love above all other things. Mercy is an unchanging aspect of God’s character, and is one of the key parts that enable us as people to be able to receive the gift of salvation that he “graces” to us.

So allow me to return to the first point of this article. Are we merciful? And I ask this not out of a spirit of condemnation, but instead in a spirit of brotherly love which seeks to help others realize that we are given grace, and that mercy is an inseparable component to that grace. This kind of mercy is what takes our passive understanding of faith and moves it towards an active understanding of what faith truly looks like. It is unfortunate that individuals go through life and  gain an incredibly respectable amount of knowledge regarding the mysteries of God and never take the opportunity to show mercy because of it. Yet the beauty in our faith is that it is so much more than simply amassing facts and figures about Jesus, but rather it is showing Jesus to others.

In closing let me encourage you dear reader that, if we love Jesus, we will desire to emulate Him. I see it all the time with other more distracting things of this world, so naturally of course you, dear reader, would love Jesus more than these things. It is from our love for Jesus that we emulate His characteristics and demonstrate them to others. Whether that’s extending mercy to someone who needs mercy, or grace to someone who could use some grace, we get to demonstrate the love of the Risen Savior to others as an overflow of the love that has been bestowed upon us. This is our true worship, and it is in this that others will see how the Gospel can radically change the hearts of people, and draw them nearer to God.

[1] Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.

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