The Melissa city police are pretty talented when it comes to speeders on their stretch of I-75. I see someone pulled over almost every day I travel that route down to McKinney. Those folks, according to my husband who knows those policemen well, aren't getting a warning. They are getting a ticket. And one day soon some of them will head on over to the new Collin County Courthouse in hopes of pleading their case before a judge.
Generally, two things happen there. One, the judge hears the facts, "Yes, I was speeding but I had a really good reason..." and hands down the sentence. You speed, you pay. You speed too often, you pay a lot and maybe even lose your license for awhile. Or two, the judge hears the facts, "Yes I was speeding but I had a really good reason..." and decides not to convict you. For whatever reason, he stays his hand and lets you go without penalty.
A third option is possible (especially for teens). The judge hands down the sentence, but your father steps up and says he will pay the fine. You who are guilty, who have done nothing to deserve this kindness, are now free to go.
Justice: you break the law, you pay.
Mercy: the deserved penalty is stayed.
Grace: through no doing of your own, someone else volunteers to pay your penalty.
The Bible tells us that we can experience any and all of these characteristics of God personally. He has judged (and will judge) those who reject him, those who do evil to others (Romans 3:23 "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." 6:23 "The wages of sin is death.") If we sin, we are doomed to separation from God. That's justice.
Yet he also demonstrates his mercy. Jesus healed the sick, forgave his persecutors, forgives us daily if we ask it. The apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:13 that, though he was a blasphemer, persector and arrogant man towards God, "I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief." God had forgiven Paul's earlier acts of hatred and persecution.
Closely related to mercy is grace. While mercy is a withholding of deserved punishment, grace is an offering, a free gift to the undeserving. Romans 3:23-24, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified (declared righteous) freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
God's gift--his grace--to us is Jesus, who took our punishment on himself when he died on the cross, dying once for all so that those who accept his gift, by believing in Him, can receive the new life he offered. "For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2?8-9).
Which would you rather receive from God: justice, mercy, or grace?