During a British conference on comparative religions, experts 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 colleagues 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, the Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval.
The 5th and most foundational thing every church should do is to be a large, generous distributor of Grace.
Grace dares to make God’s love unconditional.
Grace makes it possible to start over again.
Grace makes it possible for new beginnings.
Grace makes it possible to move forward.
The Apostle Paul who once was the king of religion, experienced life transforming Grace and said, “I am still not all I should be but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…”
So many people live with hidden shame, mistakes from the past, failures of deep consequence and they seem stuck, not able to move towards the future.
I was working at a coffee shop not long ago and a gentlemen working next to me struck up a conversation and asked me what I did for a living.
I told him that I was a professional body builder, but I pastor on the side.
He believed the pastor part and told me he hadn’t been to church in years.
I asked, “What has kept you away?”
He said a divorce, a drinking problem and the way he was treated by the church when he was going through those difficult times.
He said, “I don’t really need to go somewhere and feel judged. I know I’m a screw up!”
We preceded to have an hour long conversation about Grace.
He asked me a great question. He said, “If Grace is the difference between Jesus and other religions, then why don’t churches teach it and live it?”
I told him because we haven’t made Grace the highest priority. It falls in the middle of the other many things churches try to do.
I told him that at the church I go to we teach on Grace all the time because it is so multi-faceted that you have to keep looking at it, living it, celebrating it and teaching it.
Philip Yancey writes “Grace makes its appearance in so many forms that I have trouble defining it.”
“I am ready, though, to attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God.”
“GRACE MEANS THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO MAKE GOD LOVE US MORE—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes.”
“And GRACE MEANS THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO MAKE GOD LOVE US LESS—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.”
“Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”
Grace is inclusive. Religion is exclusive.
In WWII, a group of soldiers were fighting in the rural countryside of France.
During an intense battle, one of the American soldiers was killed.
His comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield and decided to give him a church burial.
They remembered a church a few miles behind the front lines whose grounds included a small cemetery surrounded by a white fence.
After receiving permission to take their friend’s body to the cemetery, they set out for the church, arriving just before sunset.
An old priest, body betraying his many years, responded to their knocking.
His face, deeply wrinkled and tan, was the home of two fierce eyes that flashed with wisdom and passion.
“Our friend was killed in battle,” they blurted out, “and we wanted to give him a church burial.”
In very broken English the priest replied, “I’m sorry, but we can bury only those of the same faith here.”
Tired after many months of war, the soldiers simply turned to walk away. “But”, the old priest called after them, “you can bury him outside the fence.”
Cynical and exhausted, the soldiers dug a grave and buried their friend just outside the white fence. They finished after nightfall.
The next morning, the entire unit was ordered to move on, and the group raced back to the little church for one final goodbye to their friend.
When they arrived, they couldn’t find the gravesite.
Tired and confused, they knocked on the door of the church.
They asked the old priest if he knew where they had buried their friend.
A smile flashed across the old priest’s face. “After you left last night, I could not sleep, so I went outside early this morning and I moved the fence.”
JESUS DID MORE THAN MOVE THE FENCE, HE TORE IT DOWN.
RELIGION SAYS, SOME DESERVE THE INSIDE, SOME DESERVE THE OUTSIDE.
Accepting and living in Grace is the only way for us to have compassion and to see Grace in others.
Compassion means “to suffer with”, to endure with, struggle with, and to partake in hunger, nakedness, loneliness, pain, and broken dreams in the human family.
The question has been asked, “What makes a genius?”
The answer is, “The ability to see.”
To see what?
The butterfly in a caterpillar.
The eagle in an egg.
The saint in a selfish person.
Life in death.
And suffering as the form in which the incomprehensibility of God himself appears.
There has always been a debate in the church world about what is deep.
People leave churches because they are looking for something deeper.
What they usually mean is that there is not a certain version of the Bible being used, or there are not certain songs that are being sung, or there is not enough solemn judgment coming from the preacher.
What is the definition of deep? Compassion.
Because compassion means accepting Grace for yourself and seeing Grace in others.
Matthew Fox writes “Compassion is a spirituality of meat, not milk; of adults, not children; of love, not masochism; of justice, not philanthropy. It requires maturity, a big heart, a willingness to risk and imagination.”
To rephrase C.S. Lewis, religion is all around us and it has led to wars, division, judgment and death.
Religion has given God a bad name.
When a church lives in and offers Grace, people are healed, sins are forgiven, relationships strengthened and people are truly alive.
Grace gives God his name back.
Grace is the only thing the church has to offer that no one else can.
If a church wants to grow in depth and compassion, it should make Grace its #1 priority.
These are a few of my favorite verses on Grace. Share with me some of yours.
“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” Romans 6:14
“You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9
“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
“When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” Luke 14:12-14
“Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!” 2 Samuel 9:7