Mercy and Grace

1 Peter 1:1- 4; 10-12
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Peter introduces himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. That in itself is an amazing example of God's mercy and grace. After Peter's denial of Christ at the crucifixion, Jesus sought him out and had a one-on-one counseling session with him (Mark 16:7 cf. Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5). Peter was transformed and preached the gospel boldly everywhere he went. After he preached at Pentecost, 3,000 were saved and baptized.

Peter is writing to Gentile believers in what is now Turkey, "to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." He begins his letter with a prayer, Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied [present tense]. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again [past tense, born again] unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (verses 2-3).

False Conceptions of Mercy and Grace
These terms are not the same. People often confuse Mercy and grace or think that these are one and the same. The terms do have a similarity. Neither mercy nor grace are earned or deserved. But grace and mercy are not the same.

Mercy is God's forgiveness -- not punishing us for our sins. Grace is God's undeserved blessing.  Mercy is God's deliverance of an unworthy sinner from judgment. Grace is extending goodness and opportunity to people who have not earned or deserved God's blessings.

Grace is not just for believers. Those of us who have obtained mercy (forgiveness and eternal life) are saved by grace and hopefully living by God's grace, but even unbelievers receive what is called common grace.

"Common grace" refers to the sovereign grace which God bestows on all of mankind regardless of their spiritual standing before Him. All people, saved or unsaved, are recipients of God's grace. He allows the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the vilest of sinners. We can all enjoy God's creation and even life itself is all of grace.

Defining Mercy and Grace
Grace means unmerited favor. God does not owe us anything. All the good that we experience is of God's grace. While it is true that God supplies all our need according to his riches in glory. And no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly, he doesn't owe us a thing. There is none righteous, no not one. At times, the "good thing that he doesn't withhold may be discipline or trials that strengthen our faith. God gives us good things that we do not deserve and could never earn, and we can be very grateful that he doesn't give us what we deserve!

We often hear people speak of "saving grace." This is an expression for hearing the gospel, understanding the gospel and responding to the gospel by asking God for forgiveness and mercy. God's response to that prayer is his mercy.

Lets look at Romans 3:10-24. As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

We are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ,  justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ. God is merciful, but we are justified by grace (see also Titus 3:7). Here too it is important to know the difference.

Another way of defining mercy and grace, is to say that living in the flesh and in sin is covered by God's mercy, but our future is all of grace. We may ignore, misuse or abuse God's grace, and God's mercy may be extended to us again and again, but it is a great waste of God's grace!

Paul wrote, And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)

Grace is an Inheritance
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (v. 4-5).

There are people who receive a large inheritance but never claim it because they didn’t know. But there are many Christians who fail to claim their inheritance even though they know that it is there to claim. They are too busy spending God's grace on trivial and perishable things or seeking entertainment. They are more concerned about leaving a perishable inheritance for their children than in claiming their own eternal inheritance. 

Divine Serendipity
One aspect of grace is what I like to call "divine serendipity." Most people think of serendipity as having good luck, but the actual idea is receiving or experiencing something good that we don't seek or deserve. Few people recognize opportunities to serve as God's grace, but these are the best part of our salvation and the best use of the grace that God bestows on us. It is a privilege and blessing that few believers come to fully appreciate.

When most Christians hear the words, "salvation", or "grace", they automatically think of spending eternity in Heaven. When we seek forgiveness, God shows mercy and gives eternal life, but he also gives us abundant grace right here in this life. The question is, what will you do with that grace?

We don't need to wait until we get to heaven to have and enjoy God's grace. We can utilize that grace to bring honor to our Lord and seek to bring sinners to repentance and new life in Christ, or we can squander that grace selfishly on ourselves. Because of God's forgiveness and mercy, we should fall on our knees in worship and thanksgiving. Hebrews 4:16 declares, "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."

Personal Examples
After accepting Christ as Savior and Lord of my life, I thought that I should go to Bible college. I applied to Philadelphia Bible Institute, but divine serendipity kicked in and I wound up in Bob Jones University.

It was divine serendipity that led to the field of service - Austria. The same is true of how I found my wife, and how our last pledge of support came while standing on the deck of the ship. The mission Director was there telling us that it would be against the mission rules to leave without full minimum support. I could continue on this theme through our 40 years of service. Divine serendipity was  involved in  our ministries in Linz, Steyr, Enns, Passau and other cities. It played an important role in our youth work, printing ministry and work in Eastern Europe.

One special example is God's leading to Ampflwang (3 months became 3 years and then 14 years!). God led us back to Ampflwang ten years after we had been ordered to leave the day before Christmas Eve (when Europeans celebrate). This rookie missionary, with two small boys and a pregnant wife, had nowhere to go, but fellow missionaries were gracious enough to allow us to spend a month with their family of five in a tiny 3-room apartment until we found our own place.

I could see no reason to return to Ampflwang and had many reasons to say "no", but the Lord made it so clear that we had little choice. In desperation, I gave five rock-solid reasons why we could not go and also gave five "impossible" conditions which would have to be met. Within a week God personally removed three hindrances in miraculous ways and in a couple of months all five reasons for not going were miraculously removed by God and every one of the conditions had been met. I had no other recourse than to go, but I was very nervous!

On September 9, 1979, several pastors, church leaders and friends from all over Austria attended our installation service in Ampflwang. Visitors were invited to give greetings and I still have cassette tapes of the two-hour service.

A pastor from Vienna said he didn't know what Bible verse to give us until that very morning. There was a stranger from Communist Hungary in his morning church service who said that the Lord had burdened him to share a passage with the church. He then read Haggai 2:15-19. Two other pastors in attendance had chosen those exact same Bible verses to share with us. I could hardly consider that a coincidence and I decided to preach on that text the following Sunday.

I became curious about the exact dates given in Haggai's prophecies. I did some research and was confounded at what I discovered! The prophecy is dated the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month. According to historians, Darius reigned from 522 to 485 BC, so the second year of the reign of Darius would be 520 BC. Add 1979 years to this and you get 2,499 years. When the present dating system was invented by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, they used Roman numerals which did not have a zero. Therefore the first year BC is also the first year AD. The date in Haggai corresponds to autumn on our calendar. My calculations tell me that our installation service on September 9, 1979 took place exactly 2500 years after rebuilding of the temple commenced!

And that is not all. In the Old Testament, every seventh day was a Sabbath Day and every seventh year a Sabbath Year. The year following the seventh Sabbath Year (50th year) was declared a “Year of Jubilee” and also celebrated as a Sabbath Year. Both the 49th and 50th year would have been considered Sabbath Years. Although there is no inference whatsoever to further celebrations based on this numbering, it would make sense to me to think that the culmination of seven Jubilee years (350 years) would also be worth celebrating, and 50 times 50 (2500 years) would be very special! Perhaps Jesus was referring to just such a celebration in Luke 4:19-21.

Not only did the church become indigenous in three years, but the Austrian Bible Institute was founded there and scores of young Austrians graduated to serve in churches and missions. New churches were planted in Gmunden, Voecklabruck, Ried, and Frankenmarkt. A national youth organization was founded there and soon there were 60 clubs in all Austria. Today that organization has hundreds of clubs in 17 European nations. The Bible Institute is now a Christian University located in the center of Vienna!

It is all of God's mercy and grace!

Ralph V Harvey