Published by DonDavidson on

A story about C.S. Lewis says that he once walked into a gathering of Christian leaders who were discussing what makes Christianity unique among the world’s religions. Some said the resurrection, but others pointed out that many religions have stories about men or gods dying and coming back to life.[1] Others said what is unique is Christianity’s emphasis on faith, but that too was dismissed by the group since other religions, such as Islam, require faith. One leader pointed to Christianity’s call for righteous behavior, but many religions demand that, including Buddhism.

Finally, they turned to Lewis and asked him. He gave a one-word answer: Grace.

Grace has been defined as “unmerited favor.” It is not quite the same as mercy. Mercy means not receiving the full punishment we deserve, while grace means receiving a kindness we do not deserve. When a convicted thief receives probation instead of a prison sentence, that is mercy. When the victim forgives the thief and lets him keep the stolen goods—like the bishop did for Jean Valjean in Les Miserables—that is grace.

As Lewis pointed out, grace is the unique feature of Christianity. In every other religion, people must earn the gods’ favor through some combination of worship, gifts, sacrifices, and proper behavior.[2] 

In Christianity we do not have to earn God’s love, his favor, or his forgiveness—indeed, we cannot earn it—but God gives it to us as a free gift. Paul makes this point repeatedly in his letters, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

God gives this free gift of forgiveness and salvation to all who will simply love him and trust him. (For more on what loving and trusting God involves, click here.)

Are Christians supposed to pray, worship God, and behave properly? Yes, of course. They help us grow in our faith and our spiritual maturity. But our salvation does not depend on any of those things.

When the prodigal son returned, his father did not demand that he work hard and be respectful for ten years before being accepted back into the family—the son was immediately embraced and forgiven.[3] So it is when we return to God. He immediately embraces us, forgives us, and grants us eternal life. That’s grace.

[1]. Of course, the resurrection of Christ is unique in placing his resurrection in a specific historical context, as I discuss in Chapter Two of my book, Beyond Blind Faith, entitled “Is Jesus’ Resurrection Fact or Fairy Tale?: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” You can read an excerpt from that chapter here, or click on “Don’s Books,” above, to find a description of the book, a list of contents, and excerpts from each chapter.

[2]. For example, if a Muslim seeks to please God and receive salvation, they must comply with the Five Pillars of Islam: profession of faith, prayer, giving of alms, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

[3]. The parable of the prodigal son is in Luke 15:11-32.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *