Mercy. Grace. Patience. What do these mean when we talk about them as attributes of God? They’re frequently mentioned together in the Bible.
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” Psalm 103:8
What is God’s mercy?
God’s mercy is God’s goodness towards those in misery and distress.
“David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” 2 Samuel 24:14
“As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,”
2 Corinthians 1:3
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
It’s an attribute that we’re supposed to copy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
What is God’s grace?
It’s God’s goodness towards those who only deserve punishment. Think of it as God showing favor to a criminal. The rub comes when we realize we are that criminal.
We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. He’s not obligated to do anything for us. He told Moses, and later quoted by Paul in the book of Romans, “For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
It makes me pause for a moment because it’s harsh. It’s the bottom line. The thing is, He is gracious to us.
“Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name.” Psalm 119:132
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
Paul’s letters are filled with God’s grace. He highlighted that salvation by grace is the opposite of working for salvation. Why? Because grace is a freely given gift. Remember, He’s not obligated to give it.
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24
“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:6
How do you receive this unmerited favor that is grace?
“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” Romans 4:16
Think of faith as trust. Faith is the opposite of depending on oneself; it involves trust or dependence on another.
God’s grace does more than forgive our sins and save us. It gives us the ability to live the Christian life together.
“But, because of God’s grace, that is what I am. And his grace that he gave me was not wasted. I worked harder than all the other apostles. (But I was not really the one working. It was God’s grace that was with me.)” 1 Corinthians 15:10
What is God’s patience?
It’s God’s goodness in withholding punishment towards those who sin over a period of time. It’s tied to his mercy.
In the Old Testament, it’s described as God being slow to anger.
“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,” Exodus 34:6
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” Psalm 145:8
“He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah 4:2
“The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.” Nahum 1:3
In the New Testament, it’s described as God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience.
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4
“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16
“What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?” Romans 9:22
“…to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,” 1 Peter 3:20
For us, we’re to copy this attribute in various ways. We are to be patient and slow to anger.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19
When we suffer, and it will happen if it isn’t already, we are to be patient as Jesus was.
“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” 1 Peter 2:20
We are to lead our very lives with patience.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
It’s hard. My wife will tell you I’m not known for my patience. Thankfully, patience is a Fruit of the Spirit.
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” Galatians 5:22
Like most of God’s attributes that we imitate, patience requires trusting God in every moment to fulfill His promises and purposes in our lives at His chosen time. The confidence that He will help us be patient.
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
Chapter 13: The Character of God; “Communicable” Attributes of God Part 2