The Bible is full of references to grace and mercy, and yet many Christians can attend church for years without being able to give a clear and simple explanation of the difference.
To put it simply, the difference is this: Mercy is “not receiving something you deserve” while Grace is “receiving something you don’t deserve.” We see mercy in action when we get pulled over for driving too fast but receive a verbal warning instead of a hefty fine. Similarly, grace is at work and on display when a victim’s family forgives the man who murdered their son or daughter.
Mercy is an expression of grace, but they are not the same thing. Here are a few examples from Scripture and what they have to do with the gospel.
Evangelism has always been difficult. Gone are the days when even nonChristians generally understood what Christianity taught. Nowadays, even many professing-Christians struggle to articulate the essentials of Christian theology. Because we can no longer assume a general awareness of Christian thinking, evangelism will continue to require us to teach basic theological truths before we can be assured that people know enough to truly become Christians.
Here are three truths every Christian should know and be able to clearly explain to others.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
The paycheck of sin is death. That is what we’ve earned. And yet, many of us struggle with the teaching that momentary sins would receive eternal death – it seems awfully extreme. It is a common question: “If God is love, why can’t God overlook sin?”
- Johnny has disobeyed his parents all day long but expects to get rewarded with ice cream at the end of the day.
- Suzie is hoping for a pay raise or promotion at her next review, even though she routinely ignores her boss’ instructions and does things her own way instead.
- Bill doesn’t understand why he failed his math exam. After all, he recently discovered a whole new way of doing math that’s better than the “old way” of the past.
These simple examples reflect the justice and love of God. It would not be right or “good” for Johnny, Suzie, or for Bill to be rewarded. They have all disregarded human authority who has been rightly placed over them. And if it is good for us to receive appropriate discipline by human authority, why would God overlook our sin?
I used to know someone, we’ll call him Fred, who boasted about his Christian faith while talking about his party lifestyle. He would do whatever he wanted all week long and party hard on the weekends. But he always made time to go to confession on Saturday to make sure he was “all set” before God. But my question is this: does that work?
Is it enough to believe in your mind certain truths about the gospel and lay hold of the promise, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1)?
Here’s the short answer: Saving faith in the gospel moves us past confession into repentance.
The Difference Between Confession & Repentance
The heart of confession is telling the truth. Telling the truth about God, and telling the truth about yourself. There are two kinds of “confessions” necessary:
- Confessing the truth about God. If we don’t know the truth about who God is and what he’s done, then we cannot place our faith in the good news of Jesus Christ. At minimum, we need to understand who Jesus is, what happened on the cross, why it was necessary, and what God expects of those who confess faith in him.
- Confessing the truth about yourself. We need to admit to God and to others that we realize our complete inability to save ourselves. When we come to recognize the severity of our sin, and the wrath that is rightfully ours, then we confess our great need and God’s greater provision.
Meanwhile, repentance is a change in behavior. Where confession has to do with the mouth, repentance addresses the hands and feet.
- Repentance is a change in direction. It’s an about-face: whereas before you were walking in one direction you have stopped, confessed “I’m going in the wrong direction!,” turned around, and begun walking in the correct direction.
Wars. Terrorism. Earthquakes. Increasing racial and political tension. Even a solar eclipse! Some people may be wondering, “Are these the end times? These must be signs that we’re nearing the end, and Jesus’ return is soon!”
In what is known as the “Olivet Discourse” (because the conversation took place on the Mount of Olives), Jesus addressed the end times with a small group of his apostles. That conversation is relayed for us in Mark 13. Here are a few of the highlights:
“Do you see these great buildings (the Temple)? Not one stone will be left upon another—all will be thrown down.”
“Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but it is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”
“But in those days, after that tribulation: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. He will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“Now concerning that day or hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven nor the Son—but only the Father. Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.”
Jim grew up in church and still believes most of what he learned there, but his life doesn’t look like you might expect. He cusses, drinks more than he should, has been known to sleep around on occasion, and hasn’t gone to church (or read the Bible) in well over a decade. But overall, he’s a good guy who tries to look after his friends as best he can. When Jim hears coworkers talking about religion, he often jumps in to offer the “Christian perspective.” He considers himself a Christian (although he’s quick to admit “I’m a bad Christian”).
While friends like Jim don’t really care what label you give them, it’s worth our time to figure out what’s going on when religious ideas seems to get confused as faith.
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash
What is Faith?
The Bible defines faith this way,
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)
Faith isn’t simply a “good idea.” It’s assurance and conviction in what is unseen. The visible is interpreted through the lens of the unseen – faith shapes life.
- Because God is holy – I live my life to worship and honor him
- Because God is merciful and gracious – I am accepted because of his provision, not my performance
- Because God is the judge – I live according to his law
- Because God is faithful – I will trust him even in the midst of suffering
- Because the Bible is God’s Word – I will read it, understand it to the best of my ability, and obey it as the very word of God
Acts of violence and hatred have become so common we’ve become numb. Whether it’s another act of terrorism, a school shooting, or an incident of domestic violence, it has become far too easy to read the story and then move on with our lives.
I doubt anyone can look around and think, “Yeah, this is the way things should be.” No. Instead, we hear people giving their solutions to fix the problem: More education, Better laws, Tolerance of differences. We need to understand the problem before we can offer any helpful solutions.
Christians turn to Scripture to understand the world, and we know this is not the way God created the world. Sin always brings death – not immediate physical death, but death of relationships, trust, intimacy, etc. Christians throughout history have called this event “the fall,” because sin made all creation fall from holiness and shalom/peace. Where there was unity and peace, now there is division and conflict. The opening chapters of Genesis unpack the multiple relationships that have lost shalom because of the curse of sin…