Lesson 20—I Accept God’s Mercy and Grace
It is better to give than to receive. What a true statement. Even truer is that, for some of us, it is easier to give than to receive.
I struggle when someone gives me a compliment or does something nice for me. After all, I want to be a nice person! It’s no trouble for me to give you a gift. But puh-lease don’t give me something if I haven’t gotten something for you already! Sounds pretty petty when you see that written out in black and white, doesn’t it?
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy (Luke 1:57-58).
Elizabeth didn’t necessarily “deserve” a son. Nor did she deserve a son who would be so important in God’s great big plan. Having a son wasn’t something she claimed as a right. She wasn’t entitled. She knew her child was a gift from God.
Mercy and grace are two basic tenants of Christian theology. What makes Christianity unique from all other religions, is that we believe no one can earn their way to heaven. Hindus believe they die and are reincarnated to have another chance to become better persons. Buddhism contains teachings in order that a person may make himself better in hopes of reaching spiritual enlightenment. Other religions focus on doing good deeds in order to win approval from one or more gods.
Christianity, however, focuses solely on Jesus. Jesus became a blood sacrifice to remove our sins. Jesus grants us mercy from God’s justice that we deserve. Jesus grants us grace to live in heaven—the place we can’t earn our way into. Mercy and grace. It’s all about what Jesus did; never about what we could, would or should do to earn His love.
Elizabeth knew God had shown her great mercy. She didn’t deserve a son. Although she was a righteous woman, she was still human. That meant she knew she was a sinner, like the rest of us. But God showed her mercy.
He also showed her grace. God didn’t perform the miracle of John’s birth because of all those hours Elizabeth spent singing Psalms to the neighborhood children. He didn’t do it because of the piles of unleavened bread she delivered to the local leper colony. He didn’t do it because of anything Elizabeth had ever done on her own to earn a child.
Fortunately, God also gives us what we don’t deserve. Like heaven. We don’t get to go to heaven because we work hard, send big checks to worthy causes or go on a mission trip. No matter how good we are, we don’t now and never will deserve heaven. Going to heaven is not our right. We get to go to heaven only because of God’s grace for us.
In other words, grace is getting what we don’t deserve. We don’t deserve God’s unconditional love but He gives it anyway. We don’t deserve God’s forgiveness but He forgives anyway.
We do, however, deserve God’s justice. We sin. We deserve punishment. We disobey. We deserve God’s wrath. But our great and loving God gives us mercy instead. In other words, He doesn’t give us what we deserve. To clarify:
- God’s grace means God gives us what we don’t deserve (His love, salvation, forgiveness, eternal life with Him.)
- God’s mercy means God doesn’t give us what we do deserve (punishment, damnation, being cast into the lake of fire).
Like us, Elizabeth was a sinner because she was human. She may have lived a righteous life, but she still could not have earned her way to heaven. God showed Elizabeth grace in giving her stewardship over a son she didn’t deserve. That son would help prepare the way for Jesus. Then God granted her and all of us mercy through Jesus, forgiving us and not giving us the punishment we deserve.
God saved us because of His grace. He forgave us because of His mercy.
Elizabeth and everyone she knew, probably believed she had been resigned to never having children. As an old and barren woman, they would have believed that being childless was what God had determined for her life. Since they trusted that whatever God determines is what that person deserves, they would have believed that being childless was what Elizabeth deserved. But God had mercy on her and gave her a child. Elizabeth received both grace and mercy personally. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, she also received both grace and mercy eternally.
If Elizabeth were here she would say this was her story. She accepted God’s grace, undeserving though she was. She and her neighbors and relatives all recognized that God had shown her great mercy.
Who are we to God? When we recognize that God gives us both grace and mercy in this life and throughout eternity, and that all we have to do is accept them through Jesus, we understand how God might see His women of faith. We can respond:
I am like Elizabeth.
For Thought and Discussion
- How have you seen God’s grace at work in your life?
- How have you seen God’s mercy at work in other people’s lives?
- How does society’s philosophy about what people deserve differ with God’s view?
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, may your justice always prevail. Thank you that your justice includes abundant grace and mercy even when we don’t deserve either of them. Amen.