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Grace is the difference between Christianity and other religions

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I read recently of an incident that happened many years ago during a British conference on the different world religions.

The world’s leading religious professors and scholars debated, what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.  They began eliminating possibilities.  Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection?  Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis, the great Christian author and thinker, wandered into the room. “What’s this rumpus about?” he asked and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis thought for a moment, “Oh, that’s easy.  It’s grace.” And after some discussion, the experts agreed. 

I think Lewis is correct. Grace is what distinguishes the Christian faith from all other religions. Grace is what God offers all people through Jesus Christ and grace is what Christians are, in turn, to offer the world.

The Christian concept of grace is typically understood as God’s unmerited favor towards us. Others have defined grace as one-way love or love that stoops.  I think these definitions are helpful as they each communicate God’s intentional and deliberate goodness to sinful human beings.  If we fail to grasp our neediness and our offensiveness to God, then we will fail to grasp the beauty and significance and enormity of God’s grace. 

It is not the concept of grace that causes me to struggle. I wrestle with the “why” of God’s grace. What kind of God would sacrifice His own Son in order to secure the salvation of His creation? This approaches the capacity of my mental comprehension. I have been a father for a little over a year now and mere words are inadequate to express the love I feel towards my daughter. My heart breaks as I contemplate the possibility of giving her life for another. In fact, for me this would be a near impossibility. But this is exactly what our God has done. 

What makes grace even more unfathomable is that though the Bible teaches that human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation it also teaches that we are the most rebellious. So not only has God determined to give the life of His Son for human beings, but the very human beings Jesus died for are also the most hostile to Him. This defies human reason and common sense. In my finite mind, God’s grace is elevated to another level.   

The four New Testament gospels point to the very embodiment of one-way love.  This embodiment of grace, of course, was born in a manger and lived among those He came to save. He taught radical, graceful things such as loving one’s enemy, turning the other cheek, and praying for those who wish to cause harm. However, the ultimate expression of the unmerited favor of Jesus towards humankind occurred when He went to the cross to atone for the sins of the world. Jesus substituted Himself for me and for you. I cannot think of a more vivid example of love that stoops—the Creator dying in the place of His creation. This is grace. It is amazing. It is free. It is available to you.  

In his challenging and thought-provoking book “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream,” pastor and author David Platt shared the following conversation:

I remember sitting outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia. Men and women filled the elaborate, colorful temple grounds, where they daily performed their religious rituals. Meanwhile, I was engaged in a conversation with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader in this particular community. They were discussing how all religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different. “We may have different views about small issues,” one of them said, “but when it comes down to essential issues, each of our religions is the same.”

I listened for a while, and then they asked me what I thought.  I said, “It sounds as though you both picture God (or whatever you call god) at the top of the mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.”

They smiled as I spoke.  Happily they replied, “Exactly!  You understand!”

Then I leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question.  What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to Him, but instead He comes to us?”

They thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great.”

I replied, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.”

The apostle Paul defined grace well in Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

The Rev. Steven Scherer is the pastor of Worthville Baptist Church in Worthville, Ky.