“Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.”
Receiving such a greeting from a church member may make us feel that he or she is either fooling around or being a little pretentious. However, the epistles in the New Testament reveal that this was in fact a common greeting the early Christians exchanged with one another. More importantly, the New Testament authors, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, included this salutation in their respective letters (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Tit 1:4; 2 Jn 1:3). Taken in that light, these words highlight what the Holy Spirit thinks is important to every Christian— grace, mercy, and peace. This article examines these three indispensable elements of our Christian lives.
The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary defines “grace” as “the unmerited favour of God toward man.” There are thus two critical aspects of grace: first, the help or favor that God gives to us; second, our lack of worthiness to receive such help or favor (Eph 2:8–9). Unsurprisingly, the word “grace” is used much more in the New Testament than in the Old. This is because Jesus is Himself the grace of God to humankind.
Consider the miracles that Jesus performed during His ministry. Many of these were performed on individuals who did not deserve the miracles. The resurrection of Lazarus illustrates this (Jn 11:1–45). No one at that time believed Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead. The disciples who followed Jesus did not believe, nor did Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha. (Lazarus, being dead, would have been completely unaware!) Jesus performed the miracle anyway. Another example was the Samaritan woman at the well who scoffed at Jesus’ words (Jn 4:1–42). Despite her response, Jesus patiently revealed the truth to her. Jesus’ ministry shows us that the grace God gives us is truly a favor that we do not deserve.
According to John, when Jesus came in the flesh, He manifested the unique glory of the Father’s only begotten—a glory that is full of grace and truth.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. …And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. (Jn 1:14, 16)
John emphasizes that we have received the fullest of His grace. In his description, John uses the superlative to describe the grace that believers have received—grace overflowing in its abundance. However, when we read this verse, do we find ourselves murmuring “Amen!” and wholeheartedly agreeing that we have indeed received the fullest grace of God?
Gratitude for Grace
Gratitude ensues after we receive help or a gift. Indeed, when we receive something we greatly need, we will feel immense gratitude towards the one who supplies it. During the current pandemic, there have been heartwarming news reports of communities, cities and countries around the world appointing certain times to applaud on their doorsteps and balconies, to support their frontline workers and medical staff. These grassroots campaigns—coordinated via social media—erupted as the COVID-19 crisis peaked in those respective countries, and displayed a natural outpouring of gratitude towards those working tirelessy and at great risk to themselves.
On the other hand, what lies behind the absence of gratitude? Is it because we have not been given what we need? Or is it because we feel our wants have not been granted?
God Gives All that We Need
We know that the grace of God is good and is what we need. But we still long to have our wants fulfilled. We cannot help feeling: If God gives me what I want, I will say amen to the fullness of grace that I have received. In his letter to Titus, Paul tells us that Jesus did not come to give us what we want. Instead, the grace of God appeared to give all people salvation (Tit 2:11). Regarding salvation, God has held nothing back; He has given us all that we need. Paul exhorts us:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Eph 1:3)
Paul does not say that Jesus has blessed us with every physical blessing, though it does not mean we have not received any. Indeed, many of us enjoy significant material blessings. However, what is worth remembering and being grateful for is that Jesus has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. There is no spiritual blessing that Jesus has withheld. Too often, unfortunately, we desire the physical more than the spiritual. Should God then change His approach and give us what we want instead of what He thinks we need?
Reflect on an example familiar to all of us. Do we give our children everything and anything they ask? As responsible guardians, we would first consider whether the child’s request is good for him or her because the child is not quite able to discern between right and wrong, or good and bad. For example, there are many reports of children swallowing toxic substances, having mistaken them as treats.
From our human perspective, we think we know what is good for us. And like a child, we ask our heavenly Father for these. But God’s divine perspective transcends our limited one. If God does not give us what we want, then consider whether what we want is truly good for us. Often, God does not give us what we want, but gives us what is good and what we need.
Keep Appreciation Alive
Perhaps the lack of gratitude does not stem from a greater desire for material blessings. We may be believers who appreciate all our spiritual blessings. But with the passage of time, our gratitude may have waned. Turn the clock back to the time when we first believed in Jesus, or when we first received the Holy Spirit. Recall how we felt that everything around us had changed—our mindsets were changed, and we were convinced that salvation and the grace of God were all that we needed. Yet, over the years, the intensity of our conviction has lessened. Our thinking has changed again. But Jesus has never changed. He has given and continues to provide us grace upon grace—the fullness of His grace. So, on our part, we ought to constantly examine whether time has dulled our appreciation. We need grace, but we also need to appreciate it.
Grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Grace gives help and favor though we are undeserving; mercy withholds punishment that we deserve. To fully appreciate grace, we first need to understand mercy because mercy only exists where there is punishment, and punishment means there is a standard that defines what it means to be deserving or undeserving. A person is punished because he has not kept to the required standard and is, therefore, deserving of punishment. The Bible tells us this as well.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (Jn 1:17)
In comparing Moses with Jesus, the elder John depicts the proper sequence of things: the law came first. Without the law, there would be no standard for us to follow and, thus, no measure for “worthiness.” The law represents God’s standard for us, without which we would be unable to understand or appreciate grace and truth. In the Book of Romans, Paul states that only with the law is there punishment. Without the law, there is no transgression. For example, in Singapore, there is a law against littering in public areas, and everyone is taught from young that littering is wrong. However, that may not be the case in other countries. When I visited some plantations back in Sabah, Malaysia, I was discomfited by the sight of my father tossing durian seeds out of the house, right onto the ground outside. But he had done no wrong because there was no anti-littering law. (Some would argue that such biodegradable “litter” is good compost for the soil!) Nevertheless, that is the function of the law—to set the standard by which everyone under the law’s jurisdiction ought to live.
New Mercies Every Day
Through God’s law, we know what is right and wrong. Consequently, anyone who falls short of this standard of God is a transgressor of the law—a sinner. Sinners do not just refer to robbers, arsonists, murderers, or other perpetrators of what society deems as horrendous crimes. All have sinned (Rom 3:23). And since the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), God’s mercy is critical for us all. Had Jesus not shed His blood to wash away all our sins—even supposedly “minor” sins—we would perish. Through His blood, our sins were forgiven in baptism, and Jesus continually gives us mercy each day of our lives.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (Lam 3:22–23)
No one can stand before God. We were destined for destruction, and the only reason we have avoided this fate is because of His abundant mercy. The Lord supplies the mercies we need, and they are renewed every morning.
More Mercy Than We Deserve
While suffering from rebuke or punishment, we may feel that we are receiving more than our due. But God is a merciful Father, and Ezra assures us that God’s punishment is actually less than what we deserve.
“And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this.” (Ezra 9:13)
We have experienced—be it with our parents or as parents ourselves—that parental love prompts us to soften the punishment intended for our offspring. Thus we should never doubt that when the loving and merciful heavenly Father has to discipline us, His errant children, He will extend to us grace and mercy and help us to become perfect, just as He is perfect.
The Bible teaches us that the peace professed by Christians is different from the conventional understanding of peace in the world.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)
Jesus does not leave us peace by giving us a trouble-free life. Instead, He grants us peace that will prevail even when we have a life full of challenges. I once met a Christian who professed the faith that Jesus would heal a person of all ailments; Christians with faith would, therefore, never die from sickness. But this is not what the Bible teaches.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. (2 Cor 4:16)
Paul tells us that our outward man gradually deteriorates. In other words, our physical bodies are not impervious to sickness or ailment. God may heal us if He so wills, but it does not mean that Christians are immune to all types of illness or even death in this life. The world’s understanding of peace is a life without problem, ailment, or difficulty. This is not the peace that we have been promised.
A Different but Enduring Peace
“…He Himself took our infirmities
And bore our sicknesses.” (Mt 8:17)
These words recorded in the Book of Matthew is a prophecy from the prophet Isaiah (Isa 53:4), which has a dual fulfillment. The first fulfillment took place when Jesus healed the sick and the infirm around Him. The second fulfillment pertains to us and will only be truly fulfilled in the life to come. Infirmities and sickness are consequences of sin; they are the precursor to death, which comes about through sin. But when Jesus bore our sins away through His death, He also removed the consequences of sin. Thus, the peace that we have comes from the knowledge that everything we go through today is temporary, and we have a life to come—a life without sickness, pain, and tears—in the kingdom of God. Such knowledge gives us a broader perspective and helps us to endure. Whatever trouble, loss, pain, or ailment that we are suffering now pales in comparison to the indescribable inheritance we stand to gain when Jesus comes.
When our vision of the kingdom to come is obscured, remember the promise that “the Lord will deliver [us] from every evil work and preserve [us] for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:18). Such faith in a faithful Lord is the source of our peace. Even if we lose everything now, God remembers us in our hour of need; and He will preserve us for redemption in His coming kingdom.
The knowledge and appreciation of grace, mercy, and peace are indispensable to a Christian’s life, and even more so with the COVID-19 pandemic threatening our health, life, and livelihoods. As we try to grapple with the situation, whatever it may be like in our communities, we take comfort in knowing that God’s grace may not always be what we want but will definitely be what we need. And as a loving Father who loves His children, God extends to us more help than we are able to see now. Finally, we take comfort in knowing that everything we are now going through is temporary, and God will preserve us, especially in these difficult times. “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 Jn 1:3). Amen!
 “Grace,” Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Bible Study Tools, accessed September 15, 2020, https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/grace.html.