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Grace calls attention to help for the undeserving while mercy emphasizes help for the unfortunate. Grace describes God’s attitude toward guilty offenders, while mercy describes His attitude toward those who are suffering and distressed. The first letter of each word helps us remember the difference: grace for the guilty, mercy for the miserable.
The same sins that make us guilty also cause us most of our misery. So God must deal with our sin problem before He can lighten our distress. That is why we find both His grace and His mercy involved in providing our salvation: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Mercy comes first in the mind of God. He loved us so much and cared about us so deeply in our miserable condition that in grace He sent His Son to die in our place. Mercy encourages His actions. But in the application of salvation to our lives the order is reversed. Only after we receive God’s gracious gift of salvation does He begin to ease the misery which our sin has caused us. We receive His grace, and then we enjoy His mercy. That explains why grace comes before mercy in every one of the apostolic greetings where both words appear (cf. 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; 2 John 3).
Because God is full of mercy, He acts to relieve our distress. Psalm 136 is a good place to see some of the merciful things He does. The whole psalm shows God’s mercy. Every one of its twenty-six verses tells us something about God, then ends with, “for His mercy endureth for ever” (KJV). First His goodness is mentioned, then His acts of creation, then His relationship with His people Israel. He delivered them from their Egyptian oppressors (verses 10-12). He took them safely through the Red Sea (verses 13-15). He led them through the wilderness (verse 16). He gave them victory over powerful kings who threatened to destroy them (verses 17-20). He brought them at last into their promised land (verses 21 22). But the Psalmist gets to the heart of God’s mercy in the next two verses. God remembered them in their low estate, in their miserable and humiliating condition, and He delivered them (verses 23-24). Mercy is God’s tender compassion toward us in our distress that causes Him to act on our behalf and relieve our suffering, at the time and in the manner which He knows will be best. Isn’t that exciting!
God’s merciful heart aches over the misery which man’s sin has brought to the world. And when we get to know Him intimately, our hearts will ache as well. Not only will our hearts ache, but our arms will reach out, our homes will open up, our wallets will unfold, and we will find great joy in relieving some of the misery in this world. Our God is called “the Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3). Reflect on His mercy, and as you grow in His likeness, mercy will become an increasingly important part of your daily life. Then the beautiful psalm will take on new meaning for you: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 KJV).
Dear gracious and merciful Savior, thank you so much for your grace and mercy that You have bestowed upon me. May my heart ache as I see all the pain and misery around me; and may I open my heart and my life to those in misery and have mercy upon them and take action to help relieve some of the misery in this world. In Jesus name amen.
Action To Take
Describe what it means to you personally that God is merciful.
List some specific things you can do to show mercy to others. Now begin to do at least one of them today
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