Depending on the situation all of us have used the terms justice, mercy, and grace at one time or another. We think of evil people and we long to see them brought to justice. Judges are often asked in courtrooms across the land to deal with defendants in mercy. Grace, a uniquely Christian word, is how every believer found salvation. God showed them grace in response to their faith and saved them from the penalty of their sins. Because all three terms are critical to the understanding of the Christian life, it’s important that we differentiate between them.
What is justice? The Hebrew term for justice used in the Old Testament is the word tzedakah and means righteousness, fairness, or justice. Simply put, justice is getting what you deserve. In the Old Testament, judges meted out justice after thorough investigation and the testimony of at least two-three credible witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:18). Judges dispense justice and in the Old Testament justice came in the form of “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:21). In our world, the symbol for justice is a blindfolded woman holding a pair of scales in her one hand and a sword in her other. The scales symbolize the weighing of the evidence. The blindfold symbolizes the complete impartiality of justice. The sword symbolizes the authority and swift punishment of justice for the guilty.
What is mercy? Mercy is NOT getting what you deserve. You deserve justice but the person in authority or the one offended has chosen to not impose justice. Mercy in the New Testament Greek is eleos and means pity or compassion. It is the judge who chooses to show mercy and compassion by not passing a harsh sentence on the guilty one. God deals with sinners in mercy. Guilty sinners deserve eternity separated from God in hell but Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Aren’t we eternally grateful that God has chosen to deal with us according to mercy and not justice? He has because His justice was imposed on His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Ezekiel 18:4 declares, “. . . the soul who sins will die.” Jesus died for our sins and took the just punishment our sins demanded.
Finally what is grace? Grace in the Greek is charis meaning favor and charis is the root word underlying our English term “charity.” Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. God deals with us in grace. He saved us by grace through faith. Grace is undeserved, unmerited favor. We don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. God simply chose to bless us. By grace we have access to the very throne room of God through prayer. By grace we have an Intercessor who pleads our case to God. By grace we are more than conquerors. Lastly, by grace we have been reconciled to God, forgiven of all our sins, and promised a resurrection body and an eternity in heaven. We are not simply forgiven and shown mercy but God lavishes upon us the very riches of heaven because of our standing in Christ Jesus!
That’s amazing grace!