What Is the Difference Between Grace and Mercy?

Mercy is the act of withholding deserved punishment, while grace is the act of endowing unmerited favor. In His mercy, God does not give us punishment we deserve, namely hell; while in His grace, God gives us the gift we do not deserve, namely heaven.
Philip Wijaya
What Is the Difference Between Grace and Mercy?

Mercy and grace are the utmost attributes of love. The essence of the Bible is loving God and loving people through the lens of Jesus Christ. Two grand works of God have displayed His all-powerful, gracious, and merciful nature: creation and redemption.

While God’s work of creation demonstrated His mighty power, God’s work of redemption revealed His marvelous love, shown through His mercy and grace. This very love of God is indispensable for the existence of life and the salvation of humanity.

“The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” (Psalm 145:8-9)

Grace and Mercy: Definitions and Differences

The Greek word used for mercy is most often eleos (pity, compassion) and for grace is charis(favor). Mercy and grace, as paraphrased from Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, can be differentiated as follows: mercy is the act of withholding deserved punishment, while grace is the act of endowing unmerited favor. In His mercy, God does not give us punishment we deserve, namely hell; while in His grace, God gives us the gift we do not deserve, namely heaven.

Mercy and grace are two sides of a coin – and the coin is love. In the author’s own words, mercy is a compassionate love to the weak, and grace is a generous love to the unworthy. Humans are weak and unworthy – we all need God’s mercy and grace. Mercy takes us to the path of forgiveness, while grace leads us to reconciliation.

Examples of God’s Grace and Mercy in the Bible

Mercy and grace are often mistakenly thought to be a New Testament concept. But in fact, they are manifested throughout the entire Scripture.

The Bible is filled with the story of God using imperfect people to accomplish His purpose. There are many examples of God’s mercy and grace in the Old Testament. David is perhaps the most prominent example: he was called “a man after God’s own heart” despite his great sins. David lusted, killed, and fornicated. Abraham feared and lied, Sara was impatient, Jacob was a cheater, Moses was stubborn and doubtful, Rahab was a prostitute, and the Israelites rebelled many times against God – yet God still used all of them to accomplish His purposes.

God was faithful and His promises never failed (Exodus 34:6, Deuteronomy 4:31, 7:9, Lamentations 3:22-23, Numbers 6:24-26).

More examples of God’s grace and mercy in the New Testament:

- Saul was a persecutor, yet God converted him to become Paul, the apostle of Christ, the author of nearly half of the New Testament.

- Peter was temperament and denied Jesus, yet God used him to preach and about 3,000 were saved.

- Thomas was a doubter, yet God used him to preach the Gospel in India and possibly Indonesia (according to traditions),

- Mary Magdalene was demon-possessed, yet God graciously gave her a wonderful chance of being the first witness of the risen Christ.

- Martha was restless, yet God also allowed her to be among the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ (and of Lazarus, her brother).

- Barabbas was a criminal, yet God allowed him to be set free in exchange for Jesus.

- The penitent thief was forgiven on the cross and promised to be in Paradise with Jesus.

Clearly, the Bible is the record of a God who repeatedly forgives sinful humans – and even more, a perfect God who works in and through them, the broken vessels, for their own good and ultimately for His glory. The mercy and grace of God alone can save and sustain mankind (Titus 2:11, 3:7, Ephesians 2:4-9, Psalm 103:1-5, 8).

If God has shown His love to those people in the past, He must be able to do so in our lives today. So now, how do we response to God’s love?

Responding to God’s Grace and Mercy

1. Acknowledge our needs for grace and mercy.

To embrace the mercy and grace of God, we need humility (James 4:6, Micah 6:8). We must first confess that all humans are sinners, nobody is able to meet God’s standard of perfection (Romans 3:23, 5:20), and the world we live in is broken, so we do not become obsessed with ourselves and things in this world. In doing so, we shift our focus from human centeredness to God and acknowledge His sovereignty over all things.

Mercy and grace liberate us from perfectionism, a prideful and rebellious heart. It is only by the Lord’s mercy and grace that we could live today.

2. Accept God’s grace and mercy.

There is a deep desire of humanity for freedom. Naturally, people are happy when receiving something good for free (for example, who does not like free food?) and otherwise are reluctant to pay or sacrifice. The good news is that God has offered His mercy and grace for free. The Son of God has done for our behalf all that we need for our salvation (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 1:7). We are saved not because we are good, but all because God is good. He has paid all the necessary payment for our salvation for us.

Moreover, God knows that not only we love something free, but we also love something new. Thanks be to God, through the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are given a new, holy life (1 Peter 1:3, 2 Timothy 1:8-9) and a great privilege to live for Him (2 Corinthians 5:15). As we walk in His ways, we will continue to experience His grace and glory (Psalm 84:11) and find our help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

3. Know our identity in Christ and share His love with others.

We were once children of wrath because of our sins, but in Christ we have now become the children of God (John 1:12). And as His children, we should be grateful that our Father is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). But we must not take His love for granted. We must grow in our relationship with Him, to know and love Him more.

His desire is for us to have mercy on others (Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13, 5:7, Luke 6:36). As the Lord has planted the seed of love in our hearts with His sufficient grace, we are to bear more fruit in our work (2 Corinthians 9:8, 12:9).

Paul realized the importance of working hard for the Lord as the appropriate response to His grace, not as an effort to earn His favor (1 Corinthians 15:10). Let us therefore, as God’s chosen and beloved people, continue to do the good work He has given us (Colossians 3:12), be gracious and merciful in our judgment of others (James 2:13), and do all these things in truth and love (2 John 1:3).

Philip Wijaya is presently a graduate research student at the University of British Columbia living in Vancouver, Canada with his wife, Sandra. His interest in science and faith in God has encouraged him to write in a blog (philipwijaya.com), with a hope of better understanding the truths in the Bible in relation to scientific views and discoveries. Besides research and study, he also enjoys sports, music, and traveling. 

Photo Credit: GettyImages/diego_cervo


Originally published July 08, 2019.