Through sheer repetition, some Christian words seem to blend into each other and we forget their distinct meanings. That’s why the word grace is sometimes used as a synonym for niceness – “Oh, she is such a gracious lady” we might say. Now, in our Reformed circles we know this word, grace, is important – we regularly hear that it is only through the grace of God that we are saved, but what does the word mean in this context? Would the word “niceness” be equally applicable here? Or if we were going to use a more theological term, could we substitute in mercy as a replacement?
But no, grace is much more than “niceness” and while God is indeed merciful, mercy is very different from grace…and the difference between these words really matters if we are going to start to understand the extent of what God has done for us.
So to better understand what God does for his people, let’s take a look at four key theological terms – grace, mercy, justice and persecution – and provide three short definitions that cover all four.
JUSTICE is about getting what you do deserve. God’s justice requires that sinful man be punished. Jesus took our deserved punishment on himself and thus fulfilled God’s requirement for justice.
MERCY is about not getting what you do deserve. God is merciful when He doesn’t punish for our sins. We deserve to go to hell, but due to God’s mercy we His children do not get what we do deserve.
Both GRACE and PERSECUTION are about getting what you don’t deserve. But obviously, the two are very different. Recall that justice is about getting punished when you deserve it – when you’ve done something bad. Well, persecution is about getting punished when you’ve done nothing wrong, or done something good (like handing out a Bible in China). Persecution is, therefore, getting something bad that you don’t deserve.
Grace is getting something good that you don’t deserve. God in His grace rewards us with eternal life, even though we have done nothing to merit this reward. We deserve Hell, but we get Heaven due only to God’s grace. We did nothing to deserve this, but Jesus has covered everything, dying for our sins on the cross, and taking our punishment on Himself so that He could have us as His sheep.
So what is grace? It is getting good in return for evil. It is the embrace given by a loving parent to a disobedient child. It is Christ the King dying to save the rebels who oppose his rule. It is deserving Hell, but getting Jesus.