One of the best ways to define grace is to describe what it isn’t, or to describe ungrace. Ungrace is any law, rule, regulation, demand. School teachers teach math, language, history, etc. then they test the students to see if they have learned, and then grade them according to how much they have understood and retained. Some are A students, some are F students, and varying degrees of understanding in between. A student either learns well or not. No one gets a high grade because of compassion, they earn the grade they are given. In the same manner the Military ranks persons according to their abilities, earned through study, training, time of service, discipline, merit, and hard work. No one is given higher rank because of compassion, it is always earned. In the scriptures the Law of Moses is ungrace, it shows what is right and wrong, demands adherence, yet gives no power to the follower to enable him to keep it.
In Luke 15 the story begins with the tax gatherers, which were the despised traitors, betrayers, who sold out to the Roman occupiers, they were the snitches, the narcs, who had no allegiance to Israel. The sinners were non-practicing Israelies. They gave up trying to keep the Law, constantly falling short, the effort became too great so they quit. The Pharisees, though noble in their effort to keep the Law, were the epitome of ungrace, in that they had no compassion for anyone who didn’t measure up to the standards set by the Law and themselves.
Then Jesus comes on the scene and welcomes the sinners, and tax gatherers, even to the point of receiving and dining with them. When confronted by the Pharisees for this obvious violation of misplaced value, Jesus teaches them with three parables defining grace. “Which of you,” is His starting address, putting the onus on them to answer. Would you abandon your sheep, give up looking for your lost coin, or reject your own sons?
Galations 3.23-24 says,” we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith that was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ…” The parables of Luke are a picture of grace, Jesus our Savior, is the waiting father, the searching woman, the shepherd searching the briars for the lost sheep. He is grace personified. Grace can’t be earned nor is it ever deserved. The only demand that comes with grace is the understanding that we need it. The tax gathers understood, the sinners understood, the thief on the cross understood. The love of God for us in the finished work of Christ on the cross is grace.
Mercy is, not getting what we deserve. Grace is, getting what we don’t deserve.