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Thoughts on the Way: Grace, Mercy and Peace

Grace, mercy, and peace are too important to be dismissed and describe significant aspects of salvation.
By GEORGE BOOKER
Read Time: 11 minutes

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
(1st Timothy 1:2; 2nd Timothy 1:2).1


It’s easy easy to think of these words as nothing more than a pleasant introduction to the real substance of Paul’s letters. Why is this? Maybe it’s because we have become so familiar with the words grace, mercy, and peace that their power and beauty are lost. Perhaps these words have been mixed into some conglomeration of “Bible words,” unrelated, or so we think, to our daily lives.

If we let this happen, however, we are rushing past some of the most wonderful concepts of the gospel. Grace, mercy, and peace are too important to be dismissed so quickly. These three fundamental words describe significant aspects of salvation. Each word, when considered, is seen to be different from its companion words. And each word deserves serious thought, ongoing reflection, and, finally, our eternal thankfulness.

Paul’s greeting in most of his letters is restricted to the first and last of these three words, that is: “grace and peace” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; Titus 1:4). But Paul does use the longer phrase, which adds “mercy,” in the introductions to his two letters to Timothy. 

These two words (grace and peace) are quite significant in themselves. “Grace” is a regular blessing and greeting in Greek, while “peace” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew greeting “shalom.” So “grace” and “peace,” when used together in a greeting, could suggest that Paul was sending messages to congregations of believers that contained both Greek (Gentile) and Hebrew members.

Grace (Greek “charis”) means a gift, specifically goodness and kindness. God’s grace includes all His gifts to humankind, that is, all He has made generally available to all people. 

In the words of a familiar hymn (131):

Sun, moon, and stars Thy love attest

In every golden ray;

Love draws the curtain of the night,

And love brings back the day.

Thy bounty every season crowns 

With all the bliss it yields; 

With joyful cluster loads the vine;

With strengthening grain, the fields.

God’s grace gives us the world in which we all live and everything in it: the sun and the moon, the day and the night following one another, the progress of the seasons, and the fruits of the earth for food, clothing, and shelter. But His mercy also brings the special gifts reserved for God’s dear children. The same Hymn 131 considers these special gifts too:

Thy goodness, Lord, our souls confess,

Thy mercy we adore—

A spring whose blessings never fail,

A sea without a shore.

But chiefly Thy compassion, Lord, 

Is in the gospel seen:

There, like a sun, thy mercy shines

Without a cloud between.

Mercy, or compassion, is the most significant part of God’s grace because it has to do with eternity and, thus, with those who have the hope of eternal life. In other words, our heavenly Father shows the fullest possible measure of His grace toward us, His children, when He offers us mercy. 

By God’s grace, all creatures, ourselves included, have life and breath. By His grace, we all have the necessities of life. Even these gifts are not ours by any right, but only through His kindness. But while the daily blessings of God’s grace can only take us so far, the greatest gift of grace is mercy and forgiveness of sins. It can provide us with the last and greatest of God’s blessings: eternal life in His Kingdom.

As I said, the Apostle Paul added “mercy” to his greeting in his last letters. Why did he do this? Possibly because the years of his service to others, as he grew older and increased in experience and wisdom, had deepened his appreciation of the need for “mercy” for himself and others. 

Is this true, I wonder, for all of us? Do we desire mercy for others? I hope we do.

Maybe, as a result of his own profound, personal gratitude to the LORD God, Paul felt that need for mercy more strongly with each passing year. After all, as a young man, Paul had arrested, imprisoned, and sent to death many believers in Christ, and yet the Lord Jesus Christ had redeemed him, a sinner!

And Paul’s own gratitude for the LORD’s eternal blessing welled up within him even more as he drew closer to the end of his mortal life, where a Roman sword awaited him:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Let’s look now at each of the three distinct components of Paul’s greeting in a little more detail. 

We will see that, even though they are distinct, they are simultaneously related to one another. Also, the order Paul uses may explain their relationship to one another. That is, 

  • the first (grace) leads to the second (mercy), and 
  • these two, together, produce the third (peace, as we shall see) in the lives of believers (e.g., Grace + Mercy = Peace).

Grace

“Charis” primarily means a gift or favor and may refer to any and all of God’s blessings and gifts to men. In a few passages, “grace” refers to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but that is quite a specialized meaning. The context of each passage will usually give us hints as to which “gift,” among many, is intended.

Grace is the favorable attention and care the LORD God shows toward all humankind. But at the heart of “grace,” in a special place, like the Most Holy in the Tabernacle and Temple, God’s grace becomes more than the kindness of a benevolent Creator toward His creation. There, in His Most Holy Place, where Jesus, our mediator, rests in the bosom of his Father, grace is revealed, finally, in the Father’s love for His dear children. Truly, to know this amazing grace is to be taken into God’s special family and come within the scope of His marvelous love.

Simply holding certain beliefs, attending meetings, and being technically “in the Truth” is not enough to guarantee God’s grace. We must also be moved to do something! We must, in the words of Paul, “stir up” (or “re-kindle”) “into flame God’s gift” (2 Timothy 1:6), putting aside the “spirit of fear” (v. 7) and showing in our lives the One whom we believe and follow. Only then will the “grace given us in Christ Jesus” be fully “revealed” in ourselves (vv. 9, 10), in an overflowing abundance of life-giving mercy.

Mercy

This mercy goes beyond mere grace. Mercy has to do with the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. These blessings will be ours if we recognize our absolute need for that mercy and our utter helplessness without it. 

Mercy is the overlooking of our shortcomings and failures if we, like Paul, really try to put aside the “old self” (“the old man” KJV) and embrace “the new self” (“the new man” KJV) in our lives (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Our heavenly Father is the essence of all holiness, purity, and perfection. On the other hand, and miles and miles separated from Him, we are weak, seriously imperfect, dying creatures. 

Nevertheless, we may seek the exalted fellowship of our Father. How can we, being what we are, presume to approach Him? The answer is simple. We can be confident enough to approach God only because a man, our Lord Jesus Christ, did what no one else could do. He opened a door previously locked to the rest of us, a door that might otherwise have remained locked forever:

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

As we presume to approach the LORD God’s throne of grace, we must also remember that it is only in being merciful toward others that we may expect to receive the mercy of God. More than once, our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us of this fact:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7).
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14, 15).

If we stop to think about this conditional promise, it is the most extraordinary thing:

  • Knowing that we must repudiate our sins and shortcomings, we start out by striving to do just that. This effort, even when undertaken with good intentions, may lead us to compare ourselves with others, if only to evaluate our own progress.
  • But if we allow ourselves to spend too much time on such comparisons, then, before we realize it, we are well on the way to judging others.
  • And any emphasis we put on the sins of others may make us less willing to forgive them!
  • In such a way, our unwillingness to forgive others can jeopardize our own forgiveness, which we so desperately need!
  • Finally, the attention we might give to others who are “sinners,” or perhaps “false teachers,” in our eyes, can lead to the worst of situations, more divisiveness within the brotherhood. Even though our Savior, on his last day before he died, prayed to his Father that those who believed in Him might be “one as we are one. I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:22- 23).

Here is an interesting dilemma for the believer: 

  • We must criticize ourselves honestly while refraining from criticizing others. 
  • We must judge ourselves while refusing to pass judgment upon others. 
  • And we must be uncompromising with ourselves while making many allowances for others. 

Even when we try to do the right thing, we may find ourselves in need of God’s mercy all the more because, in our zeal to do right, we wind up judging others harshly and then failing to forgive them. 

As the old saying goes, we want mercy for ourselves but judgment for others! This situation, it seems to me, is a distinct problem for those who seek to be righteous, and it can cause us to stumble far too often!

Peace

As we have said, God’s grace reaches its climax in the mercy shown toward His beloved children, and His mercy is fully shown in the forgiveness of sins, resurrection, and eternal life. The knowledge of these two blessings, grace in general for all and mercy in particular for us who believe, leads us, as believers, to the most profound peace imaginable.

This peace is an impregnable mental shield against fear and doubt. The peace of the New Testament is peace of mind: a feeling of unity and harmony. This peace is not based on the absence of conflict or problems in our lives. Instead, it is peace with God, regardless of outward situation. It is not a worldly peace but a divine peace:

Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1).

To have peace with God makes all other circumstances of life unimportant. This peace, like the Hebrew word “shalom,” suggests unity or oneness through a single-minded loving worship of the one God: 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37, 39).

Just before his suffering on the cross, Jesus explained the difference between a worldly peace and a spiritual peace:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27).

And the Apostle Paul adds this advice:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends [passes] all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6, 7).

It is true the peace which the Lord Jesus bestowed upon his disciples was a peace bought at an enormous price, that is, “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:19). However, his blood, which Jesus brought into the presence of Almighty God, was the means of destroying “the dividing wall of hostility,” thus creating for those in Christ a unity between God and man, and also a unity between Jews (“who were near”) and Gentiles (“who were far away”). (Ephesians 2:14-16).

In this world, any peace is temporary. Like the water from the well of Samaria, a man may drink of it and yet thirst again. But a spiritual peace, a peace with God, truly quenches the thirsty soul of the believer (John 4:13-15), with the water of life which never fails. It is “a spring whose blessings never fail, a sea without a shore.”

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you (Isa 26:3).
No matter the outward circumstances of an individual, if they have what the prophet calls a “perfect peace,” then their inner peace will override whatever turmoil surrounds them.

At this point, I’d like to tell you a short story.

There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The king looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose between them. 

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, with peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought it was a perfect picture of peace. 

The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell, and lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This scene did not look peaceful at all. But when the king looked carefully, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, amid the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird in her nest— perfect peace. 

Which picture won the prize? The king chose the second picture because, he explained, “Peace is not found in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. True peace is found in all those things when one can still be calm in their own heart. That is the real meaning of peace.

We have considered God’s grace by which we may have life each day and God’s mercy by which we may have eternal life. Now, we can face the future and anything it may bring. We cannot know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future!

The Apostle Paul, chained and in prison because of the gospel he preached, told the Philippians he was free from all anxiety and worry. 

He also told them they could be at peace in the same way if only they remembered, believed, and prayed. He assured them that in doing so, 

The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7).

 

George Booker,
Austin Leander Ecclesia, TX

  1. All Scriptural citations are taken from the New International Version, unless specifically noted.
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