Grace, Christianity’s Unique Offering

From What’s So Amazing About Grace, by Philip Yancey

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world 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 wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim cod of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

Ask people what to do to get to heaven and most reply, “Be good.” Jesus’ stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, “Help!” God welcomes’ home anyone who will have him and, in fact, has made the first move already. Most experts—doctors, lawyers, marriage counselors—set a high value on themselves and wait for clients to come to them. Not God. As Søren Keirkegaard put it:

When it is a question of a sinner He does not merely stand still, open his arms and say, “Come hither”; no, He stands there and waits, as the father of the lost son waited, rather He does not stand and wait, He goes forth to seek, as the shepherd sought the lost sheep, as the woman sought the lost coin. He goes—yet no, He has gone, but infinitely farther than any shepherd or any woman, He went, in sooth, the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man, and that way He went in search of sinners.

Kiekegaard puts his finger on perhaps the most important aspect of Jesus’ parables. They were not merely pleasant stories to hold listeners’ attention or literary vessels to hold theological truth. They were, in fact, the temple of Jesus’ life on earth.

“The world can do almost anything as well as or better than the church,” says Gordon MacDonald. “You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”

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