February 2013

Mercy and Grace: God’s Grace

Grace: grace is really a different thing altogether. We can define it as “getting something that you don’t deserve.” The man in Matthew 18 did not technically receive grace, all that happened was that his account returned for zero. His debt removed. But grace goes further, it then gives the debtor credit. It not only wipes out the unpayable debt but then adds currency into the account so that his balance is positive. A different analogy, a school child who has spent the whole day messing around, being disruptive, and doing no work. This person has wasted the class’s time, the teacher’s attention is divided and time is wasted on trying to get this kid to behave. Also the child has wasted his own time and his parent’s money spent on his education. At the end of the day, the teacher, dismissing the rest of the class keeps that child back.

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The teacher then, instead of dressing the kid down and giving out punishment, buys him a Coke, and spends time helping him catch up on work missed and time squandered. The kid didn’t deserve anything but punishment, and punishment more than the loss of a day’s work. Instead he got a bonus, something he absolutely didn’t deserve.

What this means for the Christian is that, when God saves him, he doesn’t just have his slate cleaned, he is given a full and inexhaustible measure of righteousness earned for him by Christ at the cross. (Romans 10:12, Ephesians 1:18, etc.)

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, Ephesians 1:18

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Another aspect of God’s grace is that it is put in stark contrast to works. Some examples are Ephesians 2:8-9 and 2 Timothy 1:9 as well as the following:

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. Romans 11:5-6

Not the first verse everyone thinks of when we think of grace, but it makes an interesting point. Paul is discussing the relationship between the Jews and the gentiles. The remnant he refers to in verse 5 is those few Jewish believers in Jesus Christ and Paul is comparing them to the 7000 who did not bow the knee to Baal during Elijah’s day. But Paul’s point is hammered home in verse 6. If by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works. Works and grace are polar opposite as far as salvation is concerned. Either you can be saved by grace, or by works, but NEVER both. And the problem with being saved by works is that it never possible, you have to be perfect, and none of us are (Romans 3:23). So grace is our only option. The problem is, and this is what Paul addresses in Romans 7, is that many Christians try to maintain and earn their salvation by works. If you’ve ever thought (as a Christian) thoughts similar to this: “I’ve committed that sin again, I can’t be a Christian, a Christian wouldn’t do that…” then you’ve made the mistake of trying to be saved by works. Now the Christian life is not without good works (read James and 1 John), a Christian is not, can not, and can never be saved by works.

Elijah-MtCarmelThis is a mistake made by other religions and pseudo-christian groups. For example the Roman Catholic Church is very adamant that works are required for salvation. Consider this quote from the council of Trent

“If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema” (Sixth Session, Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 24). (Read more quotes at this website).

But ever more a Christian, a believer is Christ, is saved by grace, and grace alone.

Finally I have an admonition. Mercy and grace are two of the most wonderful aspects of God. They are gifts from the Lord and are at the center of our hope. But we have to remember that both mercy and grace are attributes of God, that is, they are a part of who He is. The danger for us is, on the one hand, to think of His grace and mercy as simply things we receive, gifts from God (which they are) which we are to spread around. This doesn’t go far enough. Our God is merciful; He is gracious. He is those things. On the other hand, the second ditch we fall into is that of thinking of Mercy and Grace, simply as doctrines. They are doctrines, but like all doctrines do, they describe the reality, our God is merciful; He is gracious. He also shows mercy and gives us grace. If you don’t go farther than the paper on which the doctrine is written, you’ve missed the point.

So mercy is not getting what we do deserve and grace is getting what we don’t deserve. We deserve hell for our sin; those sins are removed. We certainly don’t deserve heaven, He freely and graciously grants us access to His heavenly throne.

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Mercy and Grace: God’s Mercy

Many Christians use this phrase interchangeably, “Thank you Lord for your grace, You are so merciful to us”. That prayer certainly isn’t wrong, a Christian can certainly lay claim to those exact words, but don’t forget, mercy and grace are not the same thing. Christians understand that God’s grace and mercy are separate aspects of God’s character and nature. Lets define the two:

Mercy, simply put, is not giving a person what they do deserve or from the perspective of the first person, not getting what you deserve. A debtor who is unable to pay his debts, he knows what mercy is. He begs the man he’s indebted to and if offered a reprieve, or better yet, having his debt simply written off, that is mercy as far as he is concerned. This is actually a biblical illustration, as found in Matthew 18:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. Matthew 18:23-34

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Notice the man has an unpayable debt. According to this website, a day’s wage is 1 Denarus, and one talent is worth approximate 6000 (that’s right, six thousand) Denarii. Or approximately 16 years wages, and that’s just 1 talent. Ten thousand talents is so utterly unpayable that its almost a ridiculous number. 600 million days wage. The high number is key to this parable because it tells the listening audience two things: 1. that the man is utterly incapable of paying, and 2: that the forgiveness that comes is not just an arbitrary thing between friends. It means that the master is incurring a huge financial loss, this is not something that can be undertaken without consideration. Now it was that ungrateful servant, who after being shown great mercy, violently refuses to show any to the man who, owning a fair amount but not unpayable of money, 100 denarii, earns the wrath of the master for being totally unmerciful after being show so much mercy.

Remember our definition, that  mercy is when a person doesn’t get something they deserve. The man, for his unpayable debt deserved some kind of punishment, and in the first century, that would be prison, yet the master showed him mercy, and withheld punishment. We see later he withdrew that mercy because of the cruelness of that man.

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Tomorrow I will post on the doctrine here, God Grace. 

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Text: Luke 12: 16-21 Part 02

Sermon by Clint Archer

The South African Expositor’s Podcast