Mercy, Grace and Law

 1Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,

 2Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:

 3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. (Matthew 23:1-3, King James Version)

There are several implications in the above passage, but in a blog forum, you can only focus on a couple of things at a time and do it effectively.  At its core, though, Jesus was saying that the scribes and Pharisees were still leaders in the religious community.  As leaders, the disciples were commanded to “observe and do” what these leaders prescribed.

Why did they have such power?  Because they sat in “Moses’s seat”.  That is, they were the law givers or, perhaps more accurately, the judges of the community.

However, Jesus was also critical of their actions.  After stating the above, He went into a list of things they did and required and ended up calling them hypocrites (vv 13-15).

Then, Jesus basically tells them their priorities are all wrong.

 23Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Matthew 23:23, King James Version)

It is funny how many people seem to focus on “mercy and faith”, yet totally gloss over the words “law” and “judgment”.

It is especially interesting because in essence, you cannot have mercy without law.



–noun, plural -cies for 4, 5.

  1. compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence: Have mercy on the poor sinner.
  2. the disposition to be compassionate or forbearing: an adversary wholly without mercy.
  3. the discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment, esp. to send to prison rather than invoke the death penalty.

Think about it.  A wrongdoer is arrested and brought before a judge.  An enemy does something hurtful to you.  Even someone cuts you off in traffic.  In each case, someone has broken a more, code of conduct or set of rules.  Law is simply the codifying of these things.

If something wrong has not been committed, then mercy is not needed.

Mercy, then, is not living in a world without rules.  No, that is anarchy.

Mercy, the Greek word eleos, also has the connotation of a desire to help those who are miserable and afflicted.  Jesus came to show God’s mercy, in fact, by dying for our sins.  We are afflicted and miserable in our sins, and He came to set us free (Lk 4:17-19; Ro 6:18).  Passover is time that symbolizes the breaking of the bonds of sins.

Then, what need is there of grace?  Mercy and grace are sometimes interchanged and confused, as they really are similar concepts.

Grace comes from charis.  It essentially means “favor” and is sometimes translated that way.  Sometimes, “undeserved” is tacked on, and while somewhat redundant is nevertheless appropriate.  Sometimes, it is taught that it means “undeserved pardon”, but that goes somewhat off track, as Strong’s makes it clear that the meaning is much broader in perspective.

To sum it up, someone (not sure who originated it) once said, “Mercy is not getting what you deserve.  Grace is getting what you do not deserve.”

What do you deserve?  The Law says you and I deserve death.  That’s what is known as the “curse of the Law” or even “the Law of death”.  It is not the Law itself that brings a curse or brings death, but it is the breaking of it that brings the penalty (curse) of death.  God clearly told Israel to “choose life” in the second giving of the Law (Dt 30:19).  Obedience to the Law was intended to bring blessings and life to Israel!  However, no human can of their own will keep the Law, and thus fall under the curse of death from breaking the Law.

What do you not deserve?  Eternal life is the #1 thing you and I do not deserve.  If you read through Gal 5:22-23, you see many other blessings we don’t deserve.  To be called “children of God” is something we do not deserve.  Any physical blessings we receive are icing on the cake.

Notice how none of this invalidates the Law.  None of this does away with the Law.  None of this justifies the guilty, nor does any of this forgive the unrepentant.  Sin is still sin, and sin is serious business.  Sin was what drove the nails into our Savior’s hands!

However, the same Savior that was willing to die for us is also willing to assist us.  Why?  Because He knows it is only with His help that we can make it.  We are utterly, totally dependent upon His help.

Does this mean we are free to go out and put even more nails into His hands?  Obviously not.  We must strive to remove sin from our lives and plead to Him for help in doing so.


  1. Interesting post. Overall in the bottom line I think it's good. Obviously the law still exists. Although what I believe you are saying in the bottom line is accurate, there is still contradiction. Additionally, I think you hear / read that the "grace" and "mercy" people imply there's no law. That's innaccurate, too.

    Here's an example of contradiction:
    @John wrote: "However, the same Savior that was willing to die for us is also willing to assist us. Why? Because He knows it is only with His help that we can make it. We are utterly, totally dependent upon His help.

    "Assist us" and "His help" are very different than "utterly, totally dependent."

    I would say (I don't live it every day, still learning, but I would say) I'm utterly, totally dependent upon Jesus…period.

    I know you'll argue, "we have a choice and responsibility." Yes, God holds us responsible for our choices, but even my choices have to be guided, motivated and influenced by God through His Holy Spirit.

    Most people believe we have good in us. According to Psalm 14 and Rom 2 or 3 we don't. There is none good. No, not one. Therefore I must die. There is absolutely no good in me at all. The only thing that makes me good is God. I am only a vessel used for His glory. A vessel that fully and totally relies on Him for my very next breath and heartbeat.

    The followers of Jesus must deny themselves, take up their cross (of suffering) and follow Him. The only ones that will do that are ones led by the Holy Spirit and influenced, motivated and empowered by God.

    Signed Anonymous 1

  2. Anonymous 1 wrote: "Additionally, I think you hear / read that the 'grace' and 'mercy' people imply there's no law. That's innaccurate, too."

    It depends a lot upon how they say it. The way it is put in some cases, it is difficult to come to a different conclusion.

    "'Assist us' and 'His help' are very different than 'utterly, totally dependent.'"

    Not really. He gave us a mind, He gave us free will, and those are things that we ourselves could not have done. Yet, even the smartest, brightest and most talented among us can reach His plane of existence on our own. That doesn't mean that work isn't involved, and it doesn't mean it isn't a struggle.

    Think about the rich man who honestly gained his wealth. Does he gain his riches of and by himself? Or, is it a blessing from God? Did he work for it? Did he put in long hours for it? And yet, even if he did, what does the Bible say of it? Where did his wealth really come from?

    Now, contrast that with another analogy. A man is drowning, and someone throws him a life preserver. He is utterly, totally dependent upon that life preserver, is he not? Yet, he has a choice. He can hang on for dear life with all his strength or let go.

    Not only does Jesus throw us the life preserver, but the Holy Spirit enables us to have the strength to hang on. Yet, at the end of the day, a person has to make a choice. Some will make the choice to reject Him. That's because God has not made us robots, but rather He has made us in His image so He can have willing participants in His family.

    Someone once said, "God is a gentleman. He doesn't force Himself upon you."

    It is a cooperative effort. It requires choice, commitment and to become "a living sacrifice". Yet, in the end, we owe Him everything.

    Are you so sure we are so far apart on this?

  3. We're not at opposing positions, so to speak.

    Good analogies. I know other Christians and denominations that emphasize the struggle in making right and wrong choices, and they are correct. Lots of "spiritual warfare" against our own flesh, the world and the devil. Paul talks about that, too.

    Of course, I think we agree the Holy Spirit is leading the person each step of the way. Romans speaks of the goodness of God leading us to repentance. There are many other Scriptures.

    Also it's interesting that Jesus and Paul uses the analogy of fruit. I've never really seen a fruit tree or grape vine struggle to make right choices in order to produce fruit. It just comes naturally and the fruit depends upon the make up of the tree or vine and the Vine Dresser.

    So it is when one depends upon Christ. Abide in Me and I in you, the same will bring forth much fruit. So we're back to that relationship thing again. The relationship of the Vinedresser doing what is necessary to bring forth the fruit He desires (pruning, tilling, fertilizing, abiding and patiently waiting).

    In my Christian experience Jesus has encouraged, pruned, loved and He gets to my inner most heart even when I think He can't convince me to make a choice I don't want to make. Frustrating, yet amazing to watch and experience.

    Struggle can also be waiting. He is currently teaching me to "abide in Him." That's harder than making a choice in my book. I would rather choose and be done with it. But in that relationship time, He says "wait." ARGGGGGHH!!

    Anonymous 1

  4. Obviously, I meant *cannot reach*.