I read a story about a British conference on comparative religions where a panel of religious experts were attempting to parcel out the fundamental differences between the major religions of the world.
In particular, they were attempting to find out what made Christianity different from any other religion. Was it the virgin birth, the incarnation, the resurrection? What made Christianity so special?
After much debate, writer and apologist C.S. Lewis entered into the conversation. The panel put the question to Lewis, and he replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” I bet his simple but spot-on truth silenced the room.
I read Philip Yancey’s book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” 20-something years ago. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you treat yourself to this classic. In it, Yancey explains just how unique God’s grace as revealed in Christ Jesus is in a world devoid of grace. Not only do other world religions not offer a parallel, but the world itself does not easily warm up to the idea of grace.
I would say, most people do not even think grace is a virtue. It is more or less perceived as a weakness, and if you extend it to others, you are gullible and naïve. Grace kind of flies in the face of our performance-oriented culture where everything is measured on the basis of merit and achievement. Yet, that is exactly the thing that makes grace so amazing.
Grace is the very cornerstone of the Gospel, and from it flows all of the other virtues that are developed in the Christian life. If we try to build on any other foundation other than the grace of God, we will run into a spiritual wall. Without grace as the foundation of our lives, we will build on another foundation.
The most common way we build our lives is on the basis of our own goodness, morality or self-effort. These foundations end up crumbling pretty quickly, and as they collapse, we can see the bad fruit they produce.
Jesus reminds us in Luke 6:43, “‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.’” So what kind of fruit does God’s grace produce in us? That is to say, how should it change or affect us?
Grace impacts us in many ways. I will list a few of them though that I believe transform us to the core of our being.
The first way God’s grace changes us is that it increases our ability to love God and love others.
Scripture reminds us that when we were once living by our fleshly desires, we were enemies of God. We might not have known it, but our desires and actions bore witness to this reality. Had it not been for God’s grace, we would have never turned toward Him and sought to surrender our lives in loving obedience to Him.
It is by grace that we experienced conviction, and it is by God’s grace that we were able to repent of our selfish ways. It is by this same grace that we continue to grow in repentance for our lack of love, and strive to become more loving as we live in His love.
John tells us, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16). This flows as night unto day because “God is love.” John further points out that when we love others as a result of living in God’s love, then love is made complete in us. This is only made possible by God’s grace because He loved us first.
The second key way grace produces good fruit in our lives is that it develops humility.
Many theologians point to pride as the chief sin of humanity. It certainly was the downfall of Satan, and it is what led Adam to commit the first sin against God.
Grace stands in stark contrast to pride. Pride claims that we don’t need forgiveness and we sure don’t want a handout. We want to earn it ourselves. But humility is consistent with the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit know that they are spiritually bankrupt and in need of deliverance. Grace allows us to admit that we are wrong and that we need forgiveness and power from God.
Finally, grace generates gratitude.
Gratitude comes from acknowledging there is a giver of all good things. Gratitude is the natural outpouring of eyes that are open to the reality that every talent, attribute, relationship and resource we have comes from God. When we are aware of this truth, we are in the right position to lay hold of the saving grace of Jesus.
The gift of Christ’s sacrifice will forever be the greatest gift we have ever received. The more we understand the depths of this grace, the more we are able to rejoice with gratitude each day. May God give us the grace daily to open our hearts and minds to this amazing grace-filled love.
Nathan Thompson is the family pastor at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus.