Imagine you are caught while attempting to shoplift from a local mall. Later, as you stand before the judge, you are given your sentence: a $150 fine (for the items you tried to steal) or 3 days in jail. You obviously choose the fine, but you can’t possibly pay up. “All right,” says the judge. “Then 3 days in jail it is!”
OR, the judge says, “Don’t worry, young man. You do not have to pay the fine or spend the 3 days in jail. Just don’t steal again.”
OR, the judge says, “Don’t worry, young man. Not only will I pay the $150 fine, but I will give you an additional $150.”
What was the difference in these three scenarios?
The first one was receiving what you deserved, AKA justice. Can’t pay the fine, don’t do the crime! The second scenario depicted mercy, as in you did not receive what you deserved. You didn’t have to pay the fine, nor spend time in jail, which you legally should have. The third option, though, may have seemed far fetched. Why on earth would a well-respected judge give money to the criminal? This instance depicted the most rarest thing of all – grace, as in getting what you don’t deserve.
Justice: Getting what you deserve.
Mercy: Not getting what you deserve.
Grace: Getting what you don’t deserve.
How do these three differ, and how can God be all three at once? Let’s take a look.
God’s justice is the correct punishment of man’s sins. According to Webster’s dictionary, justice is, “The upholding of what is right and lawful, esp. fair treatment or punishment in accordance with honor, standards, or law.”
We cannot begin to understand God’s justice unless we first understand sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that we all have sinned. 1 John 3:4 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Thus, sin is anytime we have broken the commandments of God, as laid out in the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible.
Sin embodies everything contrary to God’s holy nature and is offensive to Him. Thus, sin is a crime against God, and justice demands a penalty of death and separation from Him for it. Martin Luther explained it this way: “God must administer justice, for He has Himself been called a righteous Judge.”
Throughout 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles, the kings of both Israel and Judah continually “committed evil in the sight of God.” They worshipped false gods, encouraged prostitution, and always tried to enter wars with other nations. For punishment, God would allow Israel and Judah to lose battles and wars, not just because of the kings' sins, but because of the people’s sins as well. Just as the kings practiced evil, so did their people. Thus, the people would be delivered into the hands of the enemy, until they straightened up and got right with God. People may think God is of hate, but we have to remember that the consequences we see in the Old Testament were actually justice, not unreasonable vengeance.
Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin are death. No one who has broken God’s commandments can enter into the kingdom of God, because God cannot be joined with anything that is not holy. We deserve not Heaven when we die, but Hell (Matthew 25:46, John 3:18, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). This is why Romans 6:23 goes on to say, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” The Lord administered justice by putting all the sins of the world on His only Son at the cross (Isaiah 53:10). A sacrifice had to be made to atone for our sins (Leviticus 4:35, Hebrews 9:22), and Christ was the perfect sacrifice for all the sins of the world (John 1:29, Romans 3:25, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:18-19). This is how God gave us…
God’s mercy is the compassion or forgiveness shown towards us, even when we don’t deserve it. According to Webster’s dictionary, mercy is: “Kind and compassionate treatment. A disposition to be forgiving and kind.” The handbook Criminal Justice in Action defines its legal definition as “a word used to describe compassion shown by one person to another, or a request from one person to another to be shown such leniency or unwarranted compassion for a crime or wrongdoing.”
Charles Hodge, who was a Presbyterian theologian from 1797 to 1878, explains, “Mercy is kindness exercised towards the miserable, and includes pity, compassion, forbearance, and gentleness, which the Scriptures so abundantly ascribe to God.”
The Bible describes God’s mercy in various ways: Ephesians 2:4 says God is “rich in mercy” and Luke 1:78 says that God has “tender mercy.”
Charles G. Finney, who was a Presbyterian preacher from 1792 to 1875, describes mercy this way:
Mercy is a disposition to pardon the guilty. Its exercise consists in setting aside the penalty of law, when that penalty has been incurred by transgression. It is, as has been said, directly opposed to justice. Justice treats every individual according to his sins; mercy treats the criminal very differently from what he deserves to be treated.
God shows His mercy in numerous ways to us, but there is one great way He has shown us mercy. 1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” God’s greatest mercy to us was by giving us salvation. We don’t deserve this mercy, because we are all sinners, and all have fallen short of the glory of God. Thus, we deserve justice in going to Hell.
As 1 Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Yet, God gave us something else. He also gave us…
According to Webster’s dictionary, God’s grace is, “Protection or sanctification by the favor of God. An excellence or power granted by God.”
Chuck Missler, one of my favorite modern theologians, explains,
“Grace transforms desolate and bleak plains into rich, green pastures. It changes grit-your-teeth-duty into loving, enthusiastic service. It exchanges the tears and guilt of our own failed efforts for the eternal thrill and laughter of freely offered pleasures at the right hand of God. Grace changes everything!”
Grace is God giving us something that we cannot obtain on our own, even though we do not deserve it and we are not worthy of it.
1 Timothy 1:14 says, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
To understand the significance of God’s grace, we have to recognize the three main points of God’s grace: (1) First, all of your sins have been washed, forgiven, and forgotten because of your faith in Jesus Christ. This means God looks at you as righteous. (2) We are able to go to Heaven when we die, not Hell, after we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. (3) We receive the Holy Spirit upon admitting Jesus is Lord.
Not only is God merciful by not having us go to Hell, but He is gracious by allowing us to go to Heaven, instead. We do not deserve salvation. We do not deserve Heaven. And, we definitely do not deserve to have God’s presence dwell within us 24/7.
Yet, because God is gracious and loving, He provides these things to us freely. All you must do is “confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead," and "you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
F.B. Meyer, who was a Baptist pastor and evangelist in England, illustrated the free gift of God’s grace to a woman he once visited. This woman wanted to know the Lord, but she didn’t know how. So, he asked her for a cup of tea, but when she brought it, he asked again for a cup. Four or five times he asked for a cup of tea, ignoring the one he already had. That’s when she realized that we ask time after time for God’s grace, yet forgetting we already have it – He already gave grace to us. That was God’s part; our part is to repent, surrender, and reach out and take it unto ourselves.
I know a lovely girl from college who just cannot seem to grasp this. Every time I catch up with her, she tells me that she is working on “accepting God’s grace” and “asking God daily for His grace.” She almost talks as if there is some “God’s Grace Bank” in the sky, and she needs to withdraw from it whenever she starts to feel discouraged or sad. For awhile, I knew there was something off about what she was saying, but what she said sounded so “Christianese” (AKA the Christian lingo we tend to use as believers) that I shrugged off my discomfort. Now I realize that, like the woman who met with F.B. Meyer, my friend is always asking God for more grace, or asking Him to help her accept it, yet never realizing she has had God’s grace from the moment she put her faith in Christ!
I have talked about this subject before, but I will repeat it here. So often, we spend our lives in shame because we struggle with certain sins. Within the last year or so, I have realized that if God has given us grace, then why can’t we show ourselves grace? If God has forgiven us for our sins, why can’t we forgive ourselves? These days, I give myself grace when I slip up, because I know God has already forgiven me. The Lord says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Being at peace with my sinful nature allows me to give myself grace for my screw ups and live more fully in Christ.
This has been a brief overview of justice, mercy, and grace, but I hope this will allow you to not only explain them better to others, but also understand them for yourself. Do not live in self-condemnation, waiting for the next moment for God to show you His “justice,” which we usually see as some kind of wrath. Realize He is a merciful God who loves you. Allow yourself to realize you have been given His grace, as in what you do not deserve, already – now, you must give grace to yourself.
Does this resonate with you? Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments.