Mercy Versus Grace

By Scott Keith

Today in church, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, and Pastor Koch explained it very well. In fact, he proclaimed the Gospel of Christ to us through the exposition of the parable, and I almost wept! But, having said that, in his sermon, he discussed the mercy of God given on account of Christ boldly, and that got me thinking about the difference between grace and mercy.

My friend Kurt Winrich has explained this well to me several times. Kurt says that the mercy of God is like forgiving a million-dollar debt and grace is like filling up the empty bank account with a million dollars. I have always liked this. It communicates to me that mercy is God forgiving my sin on account of Christ. In other words, even though I am at war with God in my sin, He looks at Christ and on his behalf forgives me. Mercy, I think, is a great comfort to all. Grace, though, is giving me the reward I don’t deserve––everlasting life, freedom, the glories of the New-Heaven and New-Earth. True grace, I think, we often find offensive.

Allow me to illustrate by telling two stories which I used in my book, Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. Two years ago, I attended a Mockingbird theological conference in New York. During one of the introductory sessions, the conference chaplain, Rev. James G. Munroe, told a heart-wrenching story about his dad. This is his story:

“One of my very best friends is my sister. But when I was in the fourth grade, and she was in the second grade, I would say that sacrificial, self-giving love was not at the core of our relationship. One afternoon after school, she and I were having a fight on the second-floor landing of our house. I punched her in the stomach. She opened her mouth to cry. And in that moment, without thinking, I grabbed a spray can sitting on a table. Some of you who are of a certain age will remember when it was still legal to use DDT in your garden. For you younger ones, DDT was such a dangerous and poisonous insecticide that it finally was banned. As my sister got ready to cry, I stuck the can up to her face and sprayed DDT into her mouth. At that moment, my mother appeared in the room. She saw what had happened, grabbed my sister, ran downstairs and out into the street, flagged down the first car that came along, got in, and raced off to the hospital. I went into my room, sat down on my bed, and waited. I waited for the end, which was not far away. After a half hour, the front door opened. I heard steps on the stairs, steps that I knew belonged to my father. I knew that the apocalyptic second coming and final judgment was about to happen—and that I fully deserved it. My father walked into my bedroom and stood at the door. He saw the guilt and the despair and the sorrow and the shame on my face. Then he did something that has permanently affected my life. He simply opened up his arms. I burst into tears and ran toward him like a shot, and he folded his arms around me. I can feel those arms at this moment. And I know whose arms they really are. They are arms with nail-scarred hands.”


Rev. Munroe’s story always causes me to tear up. In it, we hear or read of an example of God’s undeserved mercy. This story is a great comfort to our worrisome hearts. But now, read a story from Dr. Rod Rosenbladt that, I think, illustrates God’s grace.

“After I got my driver’s license, I inherited my dad’s old four-door Buick to use driving to school. It was a ‘straight-eight,’ which meant it had a very, very long hood. I had pledged a high school fraternity and been accepted into it. The new pledges were allowed to ‘skip’ a meeting and leave clues around the city as to where they were hiding. I had five guys in my Buick with me, and we were all drunk. I carefully pulled out of a “blind corner,” and by the time I saw the ’57 Ford headed toward us, my long front end was already well into the lane. He hit us and just lost a headlight rim so far as I could tell, but my Buick kind of ‘fell into pieces’ from the impact. I phoned my dad and told him that I had been in a car wreck. He asked whether all of us were all right and asked where we were. I replied, ‘Actually, just a few blocks from home, Dad. But we’re all drunk.’ He replied, ‘Stay where you are. I’ll have the car towed and come to pick you all up.’ Later, after delivering all the guys home, we came into our house. He [wisely] told my mother to leave us alone, and we went into a private area of the living room. He asked how I was, and I replied, ‘I’m shaking.’ He said, ‘That’s shock. It will be fine.’ I was in tears, realizing that what I had done was ‘over the top’ in anyone’s book. He had his arm around my shoulders and said, ‘You know what I think you need? I think you need a new car. Go looking this week, see what you can find, and I’ll take my lunch hour to come take a look, too.’ And that was the end of the whole episode!”

At first reading or hearing, most are offended by Rod’s story. He, of course, didn’t deserve a reward, let alone a brand new car! In this story, Rod had done nothing but evil. He was drunk, endangered the lives of everyone in the car, and ruined his car for good. It made no sense for his father to forgive him and even less reason for him to respond by buying him a brand new car. But the new car was the sign of deliverance. Rod needed to know he was still a son and not just a begrudgingly tolerated housemate. The ring placed on Rod’s finger, signifying that he was truly his father’s son, was that new car. Rod says that it was that day that made him a theist!

My intent is to remind us that it is both God’s mercy––His undeserved forgiveness on account of Christ––and His grace––the underserved rewards despite our grave sin, given on account of Christ––that makes Christianity unique among all the religions of the world. Furthermore, as offensive as this message often is, we are saved by it.

This is the Word of Christ! “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) The Gospel is this: That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that, by His death and resurrection for us, God shows us His mercy and gives us His grace. Mercy, grace, and salvation all given on account of Christ. Amen.