STUDY TWELVE: GOD OF GREAT GRACE, MERCY AND LOVE
© Rosemary Bardsley 2007, 2016
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and recipients of the salvation gained through his sacrificial, substitutionary death, we have heard much of the concept of ‘grace’. We know that we are saved by God’s grace and not because of any performance of merit or law or good works of our own.
What is not so well known is that God has always been a God of grace and mercy. As we have seen in these studies on Knowing God even God’s creation of the world and us is an act of incredible grace, and his permission for the world and us to continue after Genesis 3 is an act of incredible mercy.
This grace and this mercy are not just a reactive addition in the presence of our default but fundamental components of God’s nature. God is gracious. God is merciful. That is part of who he is. It is, however, in the context of our sin and guilt, in the context of our rebellion and our rejection of God, that his mercy and grace become most evident, and that we realize that these attributes of mercy and grace are so amazing and so far beyond anything we would expect or imagine.
This is not what other gods are. This is not the kind of god the religions of men have produced.
Consider this quote from Philip Yancey:
‘During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
‘After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law – each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.’
[p. 45, What’s So Amazing About Grace?].
We could add to Yancey’s short list practically every false cult and every human religious concept. Across the board they maintain a concept of ‘god’ in which a certain level of human performance is, in one way, or another a prerequisite for acceptance. This tit-for-tat, performance mindset is built into our sinful human nature. That is why so many people, including Christians, read the Bible and find there only a legalistic means of acceptance with God.
And here we come to an important fact, a fact by which the intensity of God’s grace and mercy is magnified: that the God of the Bible, the righteous Judge, the Lawgiver, does require a certain level of performance. He demands 100% obedience to 100% of his law, 100% of the time [Galatians 3:10] and states that if a person is guilty at just one point of law he is guilty of breaking all of the law and is thereby disqualified [James 2:8-11].
God’s grace and mercy do not mean that there is no law. God’s grace and mercy do not mean that he has ceased to be the righteous Judge. God’s grace and mercy do not mean that he arbitrarily sets aside or forgets his law. There is not a conflict or tension between God as the righteous Judge and God as the merciful and gracious loving Father.
In one divine act God reveals himself as both the righteous Judge and the loving Father. That action is the incarnation and all that happened in that incarnation and its culmination in death and resurrection. There, the One who fully kept the Law of God in his living, also bore the full penalty of God’s Law due to us, in his dying. That the legal righteousness of that life and that death is applied to us, as a result of which we are acquitted, is, at the one time, the affirmation of both the justice and the mercy of God.
God’s mercy and grace are the opposite of personal human merit. They outlaw any approach or relationship to God that is based on human performance or human achievement. Out of his great love for us, out of his deep compassion, God applies mercy to us, not justice [the justice he applied to Christ our substitute], and accepts us as sheer gift [grace], not as a reward for something we have earned, merited or deserved.
Consider the following statement form Philip Hughes:
‘The doctrine of grace lies at the very heart not merely of all Christian theology but also of all Christian experience. If we have an incorrect or inadequate understanding of the biblical teaching on grace, our whole grasp of the meaning and purpose of Christianity will be deficient in consequence. There is, accordingly, no subject which is more vital for our study and comprehension that this subject of the grace of God.
The term ‘grace’, of course, has a variety of connotations in the English language, and also in Holy Scripture. As used in this book, grace has the meaning of undeserved blessing freely bestowed on man by God, and, still more particularly, the blessing of salvation, in all the rich significance of that term, freely given to sinful man in and through Jesus Christ. …
‘Grace speaks of God’s initiative, of the priority of God’s action on behalf of us poor sinners. … Grace enriches, and the enrichment it brings is owed entirely to God’s prior action of mercy in Christ Jesus. Divine grace precedes all. That is the whole point of grace. ….
‘The coming of Jesus Christ into the world is the evidence of God’s love and mercy in initiating our salvation; for apart from this divine initiative there would be no salvation for the sinner and no Good News for the preacher. Man is indebted for his salvation entirely to the prior goodness of God. God has acted freely and finally in Christ Jesus, and graciously offers sinful man redemption that is full and complete in Him. The work of atonement has been done, once for all; to the perfection of that work man can add nothing – indeed, to attempt to add anything would be to mistrust and to call into uncertainty the completeness of what God as done for us in His Son. That is why Paul reminds the Ephesian believers that salvation came to them when they were ‘dead in sins’ (and therefore incapable of doing anything at all to save themselves), from which there follows only one conclusion, namely, that it is by grace that they have been saved. Both now and for all eternity the Christian will be indebted to ‘the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus’ – for, Paul insists, ‘by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God: not because of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:5ff). ‘
[pp 9-11 But for the grace of God]
A. OLD TESTAMENT TEACHING ON GOD AS A GOD OF GRACE, MERCY AND LOVE
Because God is eternal and unchanging God’s revelation of himself in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, does not conflict with his self-revelation in the Old Testament. Even there God is the God of grace and mercy; even there, God is the God of love. Old Testament salvation is, just as in the New Testament, the result of the mercy of God.
RESEARCH TASK: The mercy of God in the Old Testament
Study the Bible passages listed below, making notes of what they teach about the love,
[Note: the Hebrew chesed is commonly translated mercy in the KJV, and love or kindness in the NIV.]
 Mercy, grace or love as attributes/descriptions of God
 The initiative of God in grace and mercy
 God’s mercy or love as salvation
 Mercy dependent on human response
 Human confidence in the love and mercy of God
 The synergy of God’s mercy [or love] and truth [or faithfulness]
 Situations in which humans pray to God for mercy
 The Mercy Seat [or ‘atonement cover’]
B. THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING ON THE MERCY OF GOD
The love, mercy and grace of God pulsate through the New Testament. The verses below are a representative selection.
RESEARCH TASK: God’s grace and mercy in the New Testament
Study the Bible passages listed below, making notes of what they teach about the love, mercy or grace of God.
 Grace, love or mercy as the nature of God
 Grace, mercy and love as coming from, and having their source in God
[Also, in most introductory greetings in the NT letters.]
 Mercy, grace and love as the initiative of God
 The incarnation of Christ as mercy, love and grace
Luke 1:50, 54
 Mercy, love and grace in the earthly ministry of Jesus
 The death of Christ as the love and grace of God
 Salvation and grace. Grace is …
A synonym for salvation.
The instrument of salvation
The guarantee of salvation
The instrument of faith
The operating principle of God’s kingdom
 God’s mercy as the motivation for praise, sanctification and commitment
 The immeasurableness of God’s grace, love and mercy
 Mercy, love and grace in the parables of Jesus