I have always preferred the idea of grace to mercy. If someone recorded my prayers, I would guess that thankfulness for grace would far outweigh thankfulness for mercy. If I made a word cloud of all my spiritual conversations over the last 20 years, I suspect grace would be twice as big, if not bigger, than mercy. If we looked at the New Testament’s use of grace and mercy, the same would be true. And isn’t Paul’s ringing anthem to the Ephesians the evangelical mantra: “For by grace you have been saved”?
But we would do well to remember that mercy is the servant to grace’s glory. Peter tells his audience at the beginning of his first letter that it is “according to [God’s] great mercy” that he “has caused us to been born again.” He then lists all kinds of examples of grace: a living hope, salvation, an inheritance, and protection. What’s going on is this passage? Doesn’t Peter know the difference between grace and mercy?
Before we get to what Peter is actually doing, I want to tell you what’s going on in my heart, and why I prefer grace over mercy.
Unexpected Gift of Grace
I like getting things, especially surprises: unexpected gifts, encouraging words at the right time, snow on Christmas. That part of my personality lends itself to the truth that the Christian life leans heavily on grace. It’s a natural fit. My love for getting loves God’s graciousness.
I also live in a culture that encourages and glorifies selfishness. My feelings are important. I can legitimately feed my wants and desires without the world raising its collective eyebrow. Such provision helps me transition nicely into thinking God will provide all I want. And when Paul tells us that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, of course I’ll praise God for his grace. He is right in line with the culture.
But that’s not all. Grace has the added benefit of being a doctrine that does not provoke the wagons to circle like definite atonement or dispensationalism. Grace is, for the most part, a safe topic among most Christians. So my heart naturally leans toward loving God’s grace. Mercy, on the other hand, reminds me of too many negative aspects of my life. I’d rather focus on the ice cream I did get rather than the time-out I didn’t.
Servant to Grace’s Glory
Mercy is the servant to grace’s glory. Remember, Peter says that according to God’s great mercy, we are born again (1 Pet. 1:3). Yet being born again, along with all the other wonderful things we receive in verses 1 Peter 1:3-5 are examples of grace. Where’s the mercy?
Peter tells us that all of these things happen “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Like a servant, mercy tends to reside in the corner, out of sight, quietly doing the work that allows grace to be glory. Peter focuses here on the resurrection, but it is a resurrection from the dead. Those three words—from the dead—are where we find mercy. We deserved that death. On the cross God withheld from us the punishment we deserved. Jesus bore our iniquities. That is mercy.
The resurrection was glorious. Grace is glorious. The “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” will be glorious. But all of that is held up by the mercy that led God to transfer our sin to the Son.
No doubt I will continue to speak of grace more than mercy. Mercy, after all, doesn’t care much for the spotlight. Good Friday always gives way to Easter Sunday. But may we never forget there is no grace apart from mercy.