Mercy and/or Grace?

The practical awe of God

When I was deciding on what to write during Lent I forgot about the panic of seeing an empty page. On 1st January this year, I said I wanted to get my awe of God back. Then thinking about Lent I wanted to build on the idea that God’s gifts are practical, The Holy Spirit equips us to minister in whatever way we minister.

I ended up with six steps, no not really steps as they are not consecutive, six questions about how your life relates to God, to other people and how I can relate God to other people. To look at all aspects of life, there is no barrier between spiritual and physical. I got these questions from an internet search and do not know who created them. If they are yours please reply so I can give credit where it is due.

I have always been big on the mercy of God. Maybe that is because I have had a great need to say sorry.

A man pleads with a woman who turns her head away.
Photo by Alex Green on

It starts with forgiveness for those who repent. It has never been any other way. John the Baptist’s ministry was to call people to repent[1]. Jesus began his ministry by preaching repentance[2]. On the day of Pentecost, Peter gave the first-ever sermon of the Christian era and called people to repent[3].

Repentance is the start of everything. There is no way I am going to back down on that. God loves us and wants to clean us from sin.

It is possibly because of my evangelical background that I want to stop there. These are the four main hallmarks of evangelical faith: the Bible, the cross, the concept of “being born again” and activism. I think it is a great shame that the activism side of evangelicalism has changed, what was once the Holy Spirit moving Lord Shaftsbury to open orphanages and Wilberforce to fight the slave trade in parliament has changed to being opposing immigration and fighting LGBTQIA+. What was once activism for people has transformed into political right posturing against them, especially among white evangelicals in the USA. Black evangelicals in the USA do not agree with this.

Unusually in a post with the word ‘Grace’ in the title I have started with a rant. However, I want to be lenient where I can be and I appreciate that I am just as bad as those who would prevent others coming to Jesus if I do not accept them as being Christians.

I started asking myself, “Are modern evangelicals missing something,” at Easter a number of years ago due to a discussion on the website Ship of Fools. Someone, most likely an Orthodox priest, asked the question, “What does Easter mean to you?” and pointed out that many of the replies, most of which were from evangelicals, were about the meaning of the crucifixion rather than of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

But I am also asking if the theologically liberal are missing out in not looking for the supernatural element in the world, often explaining away the miracles and resurrection as being not historical. But I notice that their social activism seems to have got it right, the resurrection meaning that we should go out into the world, yet missing the supernatural reasons for this. Also the traditionalists: Many Anglo-Catholic parishes are in areas with a largely working-class community. They moved in because they realised the need of these people was not only to move out of the squalor of the slums they lived in but also needed to hear the good news of Jesus. They seem to have degenerated in some areas in the Church of England as being noted for their antagonism to female clergy and discussions as to whether pink and blue are liturgical colours.

Evangelical activism did not always work alone. Evangelicals lobbying parliament was done at the same time as the Anglo-Catholisc moved into the working-class area to live among the people there. The activism of both groups takes on a different form, but I do not believe that the factories acts would have been passed without these two groups acting together with the involvement of Methodism in trade unions. God’s Spirit moved and people were moved into activism in their own way.

Where I fall short is that my Christianity is mainly about being right with God, this is because I focus on the cross and the teaching of Jesus to the exclusion of the meaning of other events in the life of Jesus such as the nativity, the resurrection, the ascension and sending the Holy Spirit. This list should be longer if there are things that I am excluding because I never consider them at all. There is a lot more to Jesus than being put right with God. There is a lot more than the things I keep returning to, which are repentance, forgiveness and the acceptance of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with those things unless I am content with them and do not wish to move on in my faith, not leaving them behind but continually being enriched by being forgiven and accepted by Jesus as I move on. The Son of Man (Jesus) came into the world to save sinners, says the Bible, but that is not all he came to do.

The missing piece in this puzzle is grace. The writings of the Apostle Paul have grace as one of the most important themes. But I’m not looking at Paul’s writings, but to the Gospel according to Saint John.

John chapter 3 is not about forgiveness.

There I have said it. What I have always believed John chapter 3 to be about is not actually there in the script. It would help if you read John 3:1-21 first, but for those with less time, it is a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, about the need to be born again. This whole section is not about forgiveness but about grace. Mercy is about repentance, forgiveness and not getting the punishment we deserve. Grace is about being given good things that we do not deserve. It is like a parent giving their child sweets because they have not behaved petulantly that day.

The analogy with parenting is hidden. Jesus spoke often of his Father in heaven and taught the disciples to pray collectively to ‘Our Father.’ Jesus also spoke of his followers as brothers, but significantly only after he had been raised from the dead. Paul talks about the grace of God as a free gift and that we are ‘in Christ.’ If Jesus Christ is raised from the dead then in Christ we also are raised.

In John 3 Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again, an odd phrase that even as a trained Pharisee Nicodemus did not understand. It is certainly not something that should be used without explanation. It means that we are raised from the dead in Christ Jesus. Jesus is raised and therefore in a way we are already raised in him and we shall be raised after we have died. It is by God’s grace that we have what Jesus Christ already has. We have access to spiritual blessings in Christ because Jesus has ascended to heaven.

It is all ours for free because Jesus has paid the price.

If you think I am preaching in this blog post you are right, but I am preaching to me. I need to move on from a gospel which is about mercy alone, being saved from our own sin, onto a gospel that is about mercy and grace. God’s grace does more than save us, although it does that and we should not lose sight of that. God’s grace makes us fit for heaven because Jesus is in heaven.

[1] “Turn away from your sins! The kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1)
[2] “Turn away from your sins!” he said. “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)
[3] “All of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then your sins will be forgiven.” (Acts 2:38)

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