By Curtis Shelburne
Author Philip Yancey writes that at a British conference, scholars from around the world were discussing the most basic beliefs that set Christianity apart from other world religions.
As they debated some important possibilities, C. S. Lewis wandered into the room.
“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and he was told that they were asking what Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions might be.
He answered, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
Yancey continues, “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 code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”
We could never be saved by our own effort or by keeping any law, as St. Paul makes clear.
“We all [sinned], all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5, The Message).
It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Yes, and that’s a good sign! Real grace always sounds that way as it amazes those who receive it. Read the Gospels! You’ll find a lot of smiling, amazed people there. (Watch out for the Pharisees, though; they never smile. No surprise. Toxic religion never leaves its adherents anything to smile about.)
Real grace is always a little and maybe a lot scandalous. If no one thinks you’re too gracious, you’ve probably not felt and internalized enough of the grace of God yourself. If our churches aren’t regularly accused by some folks of being too gracious—too loose, too accepting, too free from law—that’s a very bad sign. It almost certainly means we don’t understand how much grace we’ve received and how rich is God’s supply. Read the Scriptures! The Good News, the real thing, the real Lord, has always scandalized people by the depth of his love and mercy.
If you’re God’s child, you don’t have to live a fearful, tentative life. Indeed, how dare you!? You don’t have to be careful lest you exhaust God’s amazing resources by being too loving, too gracious, too joyful, too free. God’s supply of love and grace, joy and freedom, is boundless!
You don’t have to live like the “one talent servant” in Christ’s parable (Matthew 25:14-30). Terrified that he might make some mistake and tick off his master (whom he misjudged completely), he made the worst mistake of all, not loving his master.
If we’re living lives cowering in fear, afraid to dance before our God because we might miss a step, we’re making the biggest mistake of all, not knowing and loving our Father as we should—the Father who continually amazes his children by the depth of his love and mercy, his grace and joy, and the genuine freedom that only he can give.