Have Mercy on my Unsaved Husband
Mercy and Grace: Are They the Same?
We can find the words grace and mercy used in the same context and sometimes in the same sentence in the Bible. Do they mean the same thing? And if not, what is the difference?
Lesson from Jonah
The story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, being delivered and giving God’s message to the city of Nineveh is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. What is sometimes lost in the telling of this story is one of the great lessons we can learn from it: God is a God of mercy, and He desires to see that same trait in us.
After his effort to run away from what God commissioned him to do, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and eventually was deposited on the shores near Nineveh (Jonah 1 and 2). After preaching to the people of Nineveh about the need to repent, something happened that Jonah wasn’t expecting: The people of Nineveh repented, and God spared them (Jonah 3).
Jonah’s reaction in chapter 4 was to sit outside the city and wait to see the destruction that never came. God prepared a plant to shield Jonah from the heat of the sun, and then destroyed the plant (verses 6-8).When Jonah became angry about the loss of the plant, God told Jonah the lesson he needed to learn: “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:11). Jonah needed to learn about mercy.
Mercy is a part of God’s nature. How important is mercy to us? And where does grace fit into the picture?
What is mercy?
Mercy is commonly defined as forbearance or kindness. In particular, mercy usually involves kindness shown at a time when a severe penalty is expected. Mercy is one of God’s traits, shown often toward mankind, as shown by this statement from Moses to the children of Israel:
“When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:30-31).
Mercy is often tied to the concept of forgiveness. For instance, if you forgive someone who has wronged or hurt you, that would be an act of mercy.
The book of Numbers illustrates this with the account of the children of Israel when they sent spies to the Promised Land. Ten of the 12 spies brought back a negative report about the land. The Israelites reacted with mourning and complaining and wanted to choose a new leader to take them back to Egypt, in spite of the many great miracles God had performed for them.
This rebellion greatly angered God, and when He was ready to destroy the people, Moses intervened and appealed to God’s mercy:
“And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty. …’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now” (Numbers 14:17-19).
God responded, “I have pardoned, according to your word” (verse 20).
While the Bible often talks about mercy in reference to sins and transgressions, that isn’t always the case. At times, we can have mercy (or receive it) in situations of trial or discomfort, as shown in this passage in Proverbs: “He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Proverbs 14:21).
All of these passages refer to an act of kindness or forgiveness toward someone who is in need of it. How does grace fit into this picture, and is it the same as mercy?
Grace is not the same thing
Although mercy is certainly an aspect of God’s grace, grace is a broader, more extensive concept than mercy. Grace comes from the Greek word charis, which has multiple meanings, including gift, favor and kindness.
It refers to the unearned favor of God that is extended to us to pardon our sins upon repentance and to enable us to have a healthy, happy relationship with our Creator.
Our sins being forgiven by God’s grace leads to salvation (Titus 2:11).
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11).
Grace is often mentioned in the context of guilt. We have all sinned, and the price for those sins is death. That penalty was paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).Grace involves the unmerited pardon of our sins, and that pardon was made possible by Christ’s death.Grace involves the unmerited pardon of our sins, and that pardon was made possible by Christ’s death.
God’s grace will be made available to all mankind! When the apostles gathered in a conference in Jerusalem and debated how gentiles as well as Israelites could receive salvation, Peter made the following statement: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:11). The apostles went on to listen to accounts of how God had worked with the gentiles—pardoning their sins and giving them the Holy Spirit.
Grace is what allows us to be cleansed of our sins and to be reconciled to our Creator: “To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:6-7).
Mercy and grace!
Now consider this passage from the apostle Paul: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:12-14). Here, we clearly see that the meaning of grace is broader than that of mercy.
Paul had reason to expect punishment or harsh treatment because of his zealous persecutions of the early Christians. Instead, he received unexpected benevolence and forgiveness. He himself was called to be a Christian and a minister of the truth! That mercy, however, did not forgive his sins and justify him before God. That was given by grace—by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Grace is something we all need, but we cannot earn it or give it to others. It comes only through the sacrifice of Christ. Mercy, though, is something we need at various points in our lives, and is something we are expected to show toward others.
Notice these words from Christ, given in the message we know as the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). We have all gone through times in our lives when we have been in need of mercy. How much mercy are we showing?
Grace includes the unmerited gift of salvation and many other expressions of God’s grace, and with these gifts come responsibilities and expectations from our Creator. For more information on the subject of God’s grace, see the article “What Is Grace?”
Confessions of an Unsaved Christian
As a child, I loved the idea of following Jesus. As a teenager, I tried to tell people about Jesus. As a college student, I studied to become a missionary. As a private school teacher, I passionately taught the gospel. As a pastor’s wife, I discipled women. And I worked really hard at being godly.
All this time spent loving, trying, studying, teaching, discipling, and working — I wasn’t a Christian. I thought I was saved. But I wasn’t.
The road to salvation began when my husband and I pursued a serious partnership with a missions agency. After the missionary orientation, we were tasked with several assignments before deciding on a specific mission field. The very first assignment drastically changed my life.
Rough Start to Eager Ambitions
Getting involved in the local church was our initial endeavor, so we set up a meeting with the pastor of our church. This meeting did not go as anticipated. Instead of high fives and hugs to commence our ministry partnership, I left in tears.
The pastor simply asked me to explain the gospel, and while I knew the message well, my words portrayed otherwise. I felt a failure. It was embarrassing. Really embarrassing.
But God used this catastrophe in communication to begin chipping away at my hard heart.
“It was humbling to admit after years of evangelism, missions trips, and ministry that I was not a Christian.” I knew I should get over this humbling conversation, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
Communicating the gospel ceased being the issue; there was a deeper insufficiency lurking in my soul. I realized that I feared death. Actually, I feared hell.
And yet when I was most honest with myself, I wasn’t sure my sin deserved hell. But I kept my thoughts pretty quiet and I kept doing my Christian thing.
These internal thoughts got much louder when my husband took a job in ministry. Now I was doing my Christian thing as the wife of a pastor. I looked very Christian on the outside, but under the spiritual busyness, I was questioning my salvation.
Then, one glorious spring evening, the missing puzzle piece fell into place.
Day of Reckoning
It was a Good Friday service, back in 2007, when I realized I was a sinner.
I rendered lip service to the doctrine of sin for as long as I can remember; but on that evening, knowledge of humanity’s sinfulness transformed into a personal and intimate brokenness over my sin.
To be clear, I felt bad about sin my whole life, seemingly more than most. But this childhood conviction stemmed from external influences — good biblical teaching, parents who taught me right and wrong, and even the Spirit who graciously convicts unsaved people (John 16:8). Still, I was never convicted to the core by the indwelling Spirit of God (Ezekiel 36:26–27).
But on Good Friday, I became fully aware that my disgusting sin made me an enemy of God. My sin earned me eternal separation from my Maker and my sin nailed Jesus to the cross. When I started owning my guilt, the good news of Jesus Christ became far more than facts.
After years of looking a Christian, talking a Christian, and doing ministry as a “Christian,” I finally saw my desperate need for a Savior. And only then, did God save me.
‘Good Girls’ Need the Gospel
It can be a tricky thing growing up in the church. Some of us “church kids” develop an attraction towards good and godly things (rightfully so), making us think we are closer to God than we are.
Add some Bible knowledge and a developing appetite to “do what’s right,” and you have a recipe for an unsaved “Christian.
” In other words, it’s easy to fly under the radar with lots of Jesus talk and attempts at godliness — all the while fooling yourself and others. Being a “good girl” sure fooled me.
“Our Christianity may just be a collage of Jesus-sy stuff painted over an unsaved soul.”
Of course, there are no “good girls” according to God’s standards; which is precisely the truth I failed to comprehend. In fact, Jesus told a story to people me:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.
’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10–14)
the Pharisee, those who think they’re “good” are so busy comparing themselves to others that they don’t see their wretchedness before God. They may do godly things, they may seem spiritually ambitious, but they are not saved. Just I had, they have a Pharisaic, unregenerate heart.
Then there are those who cry out to God, recognizing their desperate need for his mercy. There are those who stand humbly before God begging for forgiveness. There are those who realize they were never “good,” but they cling to a perfectly good Savior. They have a redeemed soul; they are the justified (Luke 18:14).
Pro-Jesus Isn’t Enough
We may look the part, but unless our hearts cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” it’s all a ruse. It’s an illusion that often fools even the so-called “godly person.”
Sadly, many people will stand before God thinking they are fine because they have a good Christian resume (Matthew 7:21–23). But Christian ministry doesn’t guarantee salvation, being pro-Jesus doesn’t mean you’re a Christian, even conviction of sin and attempts at obedience do not ensure you are saved.
People jump on the bandwagon of Christianity (and Christian ministry) for all kinds of reasons while missing the point altogether. We need an inner transformation in which we desire Jesus more than anything else because we recognize we need him more than everything else (Matthew 13:44–46). Otherwise, our Christianity may just be a collage of Jesus-sy stuff painted over an unsaved soul.
Painful, Glorious Joy
It was humbling to admit after years of evangelism, missions trips, and various ministry endeavors that I was not a Christian. But nothing was better than realizing a Savior died for me.
I had to swallow my pride, but I gained eternal life. I had to acknowledge my “spiritual experiences” were simply experiences, but I gained forgiveness of sin.
It was painful to concede I was a fake, but it was pure joy to become a child of God.
“It was painful to concede I was a fake, but it was pure joy to become a child of God!”
If you realize you’re a “godly person” following something other than Jesus, don’t bury your concerns. Bury your pride. Admit you desperately need the good news of the gospel.
Humble yourself the tax collector, and beg for God’s forgiveness. And trust that Jesus took care of the wrath you deserved.
Turn from your spiritual experiences, and turn to Jesus in genuine repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).
Eternity hangs in the balance; don’t let “godliness” fool you.