To put it simply, mercy is God withholding from you what you deserve. Grace is God giving you what you don’t deserve.
Here are a few practical examples taken from stories throughout Scripture:
• Mercy withholds the knife from the heart of Isaac. Grace provides a lamb in the thicket.
• Mercy runs to forgive the prodigal. Grace throws a party with a robe, a ring, and a fatted calf.
• Mercy bandages the wounds of the man beaten by the robbers. Grace covers the cost of his full recovery.
• Mercy hears the cry of the thief on the cross. Grace promises Paradise that very day.
• Mercy pays the penalty for our sin at the cross. Grace provides the righteousness of Christ in its place.
• Mercy converts Paul on the road to Damascus. Grace calls him to be the great apostle.
• Mercy keeps us out of hell. Grace takes us to heaven.
You receive God’s grace by putting your faith in Him.
Someone put it to me this way: Faith is the channel through which we receive the grace of God. God’s grace is His gift of Christ who came down to be our Savior.
Faith is the simple appreciation of God’s Word and accepting what He says. When you say to the Lord, “I believe that You have sent Your Son to die for me so that I might receive Your gift of eternal life, and I receive Your gift of grace today,” that is faith. Often it is expressed in a prayer.
You can’t earn God’s grace by anything you do, but you can accept it and receive it, by putting your faith in the One who freely gives it. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7-9: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
We are earthen vessels, we are human. Because of that, we are subject to difficulty and tough times and need the grace of God daily. As Christians, we have to understand our humanity and potential for difficulty so we aren’t surprised by struggles.
Some people have been taught that if you become a Christian, all your problems are solved. But most of us know that when you become a Christian, you actually develop some problems you didn’t have before. You encounter a new conflict between your holy self and your unholy self, between your good nature and your old nature.
Paul is reminding us in this passage of Scripture that we live in earthly bodies, and we will experience trouble. But by God’s grace, it will not destroy us.
While it is true you aren’t saved by works, you are saved in order to do good works. Grace teaches you that if you have been saved, then you should serve God zealously.
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
In other words, he is saying “I know I am saved by grace, but I’m serving God with everything I’ve got.” Grace is not a justification for laziness, but our motivation to serve God zealously.