Across the spectrum of global spirituality, is there anything unique to the Christian faith?
Those attending a British conference on comparative religions in the middle of the last century debated that very question. When all is said and done, is there anything associated with following Jesus that has no parallel?
How about the incarnation? That didn’t fly since other religions include stories of various Gods taking on human form. The resurrection perhaps? That’s not unique to Christianity, either since others make claims of people rising from the dead. Miracles? Angels and demons? Guidance provided through dreams and visions? None of those are unique to the faith associated with Jesus of Nazareth.
The debate continued until author and theologian C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked. When told that the delegates were trying to identify what makes Christianity stand apart from other religious options, he said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” That was the end of the
There is in fact nothing else in the world that holds a candle to Jesus’ teaching that God’s love and
acceptance are absolutely free and unconditional. That idea, however, goes so strongly against the grain of human instinct that virtually all the religions on earth end up promoting a set of spiritual self-improvement strategies. God will favor us if we are good or if we perform, or if we love God first.
Jesus turns all that on its head. And right now he’s making the offer of a lifetime DEAL or NO DEAL. You can be in a transforming relationship with God in which he provides all the power, all the meaning, and all the resources-if you will abandon all your efforts to win God over according to some kind of performance plan.
Grace means that God’s presence, God’s love, and God’s forgiveness cannot be earned. They cannot be
deserved. They can only be received. No wonder the Apostle Paul begins all 13 of his New Testament
letters with a reference to grace.
In his book, “What the Mystics Know”, Father Richard Rohr describes the alternatives. “There are two utterly different forms of religion. One believes that God will love me if I change. The other believes that God loves me so that I can change!” The first is the most common. The second follows upon an experience of personal indwelling and personal love. I John 4:10 reminds us: “This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” One of my friends calls his mother every Sunday evening. Their conversation always ends the same way. He says, “Love you Mom”, and she always answers, “I loved you first.”
God loved us first. The truth is so incredible that if we choose to believe it, our lives will never be the same. Perhaps that sounds like a spiritual pipe dream. But God is utterly committed to see such transformation in our lives. Is there anything that can possibly help that happen?
That’s easy: It’s grace.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain