Too often I hear people using these terms interchangeably, but that is not the proper use of them.
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If you don’t mind, I am not going to give Webster’s definitions or go through dozens of biblical verses to justify the statements I am about to make.
Instead, I am going to share with you my personal understanding of these terms, gleaned from some 25 years of studying the Bible, earning a Certificate of Messianic Studies from the Messianic Bible Institute, talking with hundreds of Believers, and (what I hope to be) a spirit-generated wisdom.
That being said, even though forgiveness, mercy, and grace are not the same thing, they are definitely intertwined.
Forgiveness is letting go of the need to retaliate or get revenge on someone for having hurt you, in any way.
We all know not to seek revenge because vengeance belongs to the Lord, but if we’re lucky, sometimes we get to see it happen.
Forgiveness does NOT mean allowing someone back into your life, or trusting them (unless they earn it back), but we should keep an open mind. Forgiveness NEVER means that who we forgive gets away with whatever they did- forgiveness is not absolution, and even when God forgives sins, that is on an eternal and spiritual level.
When you sin, you WILL pay for it on earth, one way or another.
Mercy, like forgiveness, is not allowing someone to get off scot-free when they sin. No; mercy is not escape from punishment, it is the rendering of compassionate punishment.
In the Bible we are told “eye for eye, tooth for tooth”, but that was never meant to be taken literally. God meant that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime.
That means if someone steals, they must return or pay for what they stole (often with an additional fifth), and if someone maims another, they must make a payment equal to the lifelong financial loss of that appendage.
If someone murders someone else, depending on whether it was accidental or premeditated, their punishment will be appropriate.
Mercy is, to some degree, a part of forgiveness- in fact, I would say that forgiveness starts with a merciful attitude.
Now, let’s talk about grace.
Grace is not an action, it is a desire. God tells us in Ezekiel 18:23 (OK, so I’ll use one Bible reference) that he desires all people to live. That is his Grace- the desire to forgive, the desire to punish mercifully, and the desire that everyone, sinner and righteous alike, by able to be in his presence throughout eternity.
So, to bring them all together, here is how I see it working:
Because of God’s Grace, he gave us the Torah so we would know how to live forever with him. But, knowing that we would never be totally Torah observant, because of his Grace, he provided a way we could be forgiven of our sins, which is the sacrificial system. He also decreed a penal system in the Torah, which (by his Grace) defines the types of merciful punishment to be meted out.
His Grace is the reason why he sent the Messiah, knowing that the temple would be destroyed and that we needed another way to be forgiven of our sins.
That’s it- Grace is behind forgiveness and mercy, but forgiveness is not mercy, and mercy is not a “Get Out of Jail for Free” card.
When you sin, by God’s Grace you have a means to be forgiven on a spiritual level, but you will still face punishment for your actions, although that punishment will be tempered with mercy.
That’s how I see it all fitting together. However, if you see it differently, please let me know and share your ideas with all of us.
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That’s it for today (WOW! Two short messages in the same week!) so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!