Mercy & Grace: The Issue of Comparison

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Mercy & Grace. Two of the sweetest words we will ever hear. But like any other word, familiarity breeds a ho-hum attitude if not outright contempt. When you hear these two words do you still experience wonder and awe? Can you still sing, Amazing grace. How sweet the sound?

How is it that these once majestic words seem mundane? Why has amazing become ordinary? How have our thoughts on the words become so routine?

Since our affections are determined by what we think, this lack of affection must mean that our thinking has become muddled. We do not feel about mercy and grace like we once did because we do not think properly about them.

If we really grasped how sinful we are and how deserving of the wrath of God, we would more than marvel that he not only spares us that wrath (mercy) but also gives to us his blessings (grace).

  • We deserve wrath. He gives mercy.
  • We deserve death. He gives life.
  • We deserve bondage. He gives freedom.
  • We deserve judgment. He gives pardon.
  • We deserve abandonment. He gives his presence.
  • We deserve punishment. He gives reward.
  • We deserve nothing. He gives all.

In a parable recorded in Luke 18, we learn what our basic issue is when it comes to misunderstanding mercy and grace. We will call this issue the issue of comparison.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “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 like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like 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 18:9-14

In this parable we see two opposite understandings of mercy and grace. The Pharisee’s thanksgiving was contingent on comparisons that belied the real issue. We all have a little (or a lot) of this Pharisee in us. In a series of upcoming articles, we will consider the comparisons we employ to mask our desperate need for God’s mercy and grace.

Upcoming Articles

  1. Mercy & Grace: Comparing Our Selves to Other Sinners
  2. Mercy & Grace: Comparing Our Sins to Other’s Sins
  3. Mercy & Grace: Comparing Our Outer Actions to Our Inner Thoughts
  4. Mercy & Grace: Comparing Our Good Days to Our Bad Days
  5. Mercy & Grace: Comparing Our Selves to God Himself.

In the end #5 is the only valid comparison we should make with regard to whether we need mercy and grace. We need mercy and grace, but we do not deserve mercy and grace. So where can we find these two gifts? Only by beholding the Lamb of God.

At Calvary

Think on these words from the second verse in William Newell’s 1895 hymn titled At Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

MERCY there was great,
and GRACE was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary