OceanSide church of Christ
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GRACE, MERCY, AND JUSTICE
Victor M. Eskew
Grace, mercy, and justice are Biblical terms. They are words that deal with the actions of God toward man. They are each associated with sin. This being the case, we need to have a good understanding of these concepts and how they relate to us. We will attempt to explain them in this article.
God created man with the desire of having pristine fellowship with him. Due to His love for man, however, He would not force such a relationship on humanity. It must be a relationship that man chose to have. The first couple chose self over God. They ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Sin then entered into the world. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
The next move was up to God. “The ball was in His court” so to speak. There were three reactions He could have had toward man’s sinful condition. First, He could have responded with justice. The law states: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die…” (Ezek. 18:20). This death was to be harsh, bloody, and cruel. It would involve the taking of life from the one who transgressed the will of God. For God to respond to sinners in this manner would be fair, righteous, and just. God has responded to sin this way many times in the past: “Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2); Uzzah (II Sam. 6:6-7); and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Each of these persons transgressed God’s will. Immediate divine action was taken against them. The sentence of death was executed. God’s justice was carried out.
Another response that God could have toward sin is the extension of mercy. When mercy is issued forth, man does not receive what He deserves. Mercy was extended to Adam and Eve in the garden. The sentence for their sin was supposed to be death according to Genesis 2:16-17. Instead of justice, they received mercy. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat of the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:16-19). Man was punished, but he got less than he deserved. God extended mercy instead of justice to this first couple.
A third response God can have toward sin involves grace. Grace is the extension of that which man does not deserve. It is the unmerited, unearned, favor of God toward man. It is God’s help given to the sinner. This grace has been manifested beyond measure in the Christian age. Jesus Christ was given by God to pay the price for our sins. Through His death, we have hope of living in a beautiful place called heaven in complete fellowship with God. What did we do to deserve this? Absolutely nothing! God’s grace has provided this. In Romans 3:23-27, Paul writes of this grace that has satisfied the demands of God’s justice.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath sent forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to de- clare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.”
Notice that all have sinned. Thus, all men should receive the condemnation of God. Every man should die a violent, bloody, physical death. This, however, does not have to happen. We can be justified freely by God’s grace. This can happen because Jesus was given to be the propitiation for our sins. Because Jesus shed His blood, God can declare His righteousness. He can forgive man’s sins. Too, He can remain just, having punished sin through Jesus. We did not deserve this, but God gave it to us. This is grace. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, let any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Justice involves our getting what we deserve. Mercy involves our not getting what is deserved. Grace involves our getting that which we do not deserve. Fortunately, God through His great love wherewith He loved us extended both mercy and grace so we can escape His severe justice.
This grace does not come unconditionally, however. The Father has revealed that certain things must be done in order to obtain His grace in our lives. Obedient faith is the requirement placed upon man. “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Once we have obeyed His will, He then requires our faithful obedience unto the end. “…be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). It is a sad fact that the majority of people will not accept the grace of God. Instead, they will choose to suffer the vengeance of God for the sins they have committed. Jesus exhorts us not to make this pitiful choice. He encourages us, saying: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).