September 20, 2016
God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.—Ephesians 2:4–51
What makes Christianity different from all the other religions of the world? Years ago that very question was discussed at a conference. Some of the participants argued that Christianity is unique in teaching that God became man. But someone objected, saying that other religions teach similar doctrines. What about the resurrection? No, it was argued, other faiths believe that the dead rise again. The discussion grew heated.
C. S. Lewis, a strong defender of Christianity, came in late, sat down, and asked, “What’s the rumpus about?” When he learned that it was a debate about the uniqueness of Christianity, he immediately commented, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
How right he was! The very heart of the gospel is the supreme truth that God accepts us with no conditions whatever when we put our trust in the atoning sacrifice of His incarnate Son. Although we are helplessly sinful, God in grace forgives us completely. It’s by His infinite grace that we are saved, not by moral character, works of righteousness, commandment-keeping, or churchgoing. When we do nothing else but accept God’s total pardon, we receive the guarantee of eternal life.2
Good news indeed. What a gospel! What a Savior!—Author unknown
Erma Bombeck commented:
“In church the other Sunday I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mother’s handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off Broadway said, ‘Stop that grinning! You’re in church!’ With that, she gave him a belt, and as the tears rolled down his cheeks added, ‘That’s better,’ and returned to her prayers....
“Suddenly I was angry. It occurred to me the whole entire world is in tears, and if you’re not, then you’d better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us. … By tradition, one wears faith with the solemnity of a mourner, the gravity of a mask for tragedy, and the dedication of a Rotary badge.
“What a fool, I thought. Here was a woman sitting next to the only light left in our civilization—the only hope, our only miracle—our only promise of infinity. If he couldn’t smile in church, where was there left to go?”
These characterizations of Christians are surely incomplete, for I know many Christians who embody grace. Yet somehow throughout history the church has managed to gain a reputation for its ungrace. As the little English girl prayed, “O God, make the bad people good, and the good people nice.”—Philip Yancey3
When you start putting more emphasis on damning the sin than loving the sinner, that’s not a good sign. God does everything possible to love us into His kingdom first. What won you to Jesus? Was it seeing your sins exposed one by one and being told you were “a filthy rotten sinner”? Were you belittled and criticized and condemned for all the wrong you had done? Or were you told it didn’t matter what you had done; there was a wonderful, loving Father who loved you so much that He was willing to pay any price—the greatest price of all—to make a place by His side for you in heaven, where you could be forever happy and at peace with Him. “God commendeth (demonstrates) His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”4
If people have to be free of their sins before we can love them, who will there be to love? If we start judging people on the basis of their sins, who is going to stand? “If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”5 We’re all hopeless without God’s love and grace, and that’s the only thing that can save us.—Maria Fontaine
Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart.
Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Photos. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janeiro.
Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note.
It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.
It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet her little village was, in too many ways, too far away.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did.—Max Lucado6
Published on Anchor September 2016. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
2 Titus 3:4–7.
3 Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Zondervan, 1997).
4 Romans 5:8.
5 Psalm 130:3.
6 Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him Savior (Multnomah Press, 1986).
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