January 16, 2013

grace, defined

I heard it again, just this Sunday - "grace" used casually as a synonym for "mercy."

They are, thanks be to God, two different things, and I would like to differentiate them for the record.

[I am, of course, no Greek scholar, and I hope I am never accused of being a theologian.  This is my explanation of two admittedly theological terms according to my experience of God and my understanding of the Bible.]

Mercy is derived from the Latin for "price paid", and means just that:  when He does not demand from us the price due for our sins (namely, death), God is showing us mercy.  Jesus, in his sinless life and his own death on the cross, paid in our stead the price that we owed to God.  Ever since Jesus' death and resurrection, the scales have been divinely balanced, and God, "who calls things that are not as though they are," looks at repentant sinners and sees His righteous Son.

Grace, thank God, is something else entirely.

Mercy covers the sins we have committed.  
Grace makes it possible for us to live free
from sin's continual mastery.

The English word grace, according to Merriam Webster, means "unmerited divine assistance given humans". The Greek word often translated "grace" is charis - the "unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, affected through the agency of the Holy Spirit."  Charis comes from chairein which means "to rejoice," and denotes first of all a pleasant external appearance, "loveliness," "agreeableness," "acceptableness."  In other words, grace is God providing what we need, though His Spirit, to live in a way that is pleasing to Him and to our fellow man:  namely, without sin.

Mercy:  forgiven the punishment our sins deserve.
Grace:  empowered to live the life He intended.

------------------------  : :  ><  : :  ------------------------

"This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses,
for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.
There we will receive his mercy,
and we will find grace to help us when we need it most."
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NLT)


  1. Very good points, thank you! I have heard it described like this:
    Mercy is not getting what we deserve;
    Grace is getting what we do not deserve.

    Praise God for both!

    Aimee Beth

    1. Nice distinction, Aimee Beth - concise. Thanks!


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