Brian Harris tells the famous story that after a lengthy debate about what made Christianity unique, C.S. Lewis chirped up that the answer was easy: grace. This story opens up the chapter on the cross-shaped reality at the heart of a Christian worldview in Brian’s book The Big Picture: Building Blocks of a Christian World View.
Grace is the third of six building blocks as he builds a Christian worldview: the universe as designed, humans as a tragedy and triumph, grace, the Trinity and community, building a world with a better name, and learning to live in hope. Today we look at grace.
Here is his opening summary:
In every other religion, you have to earn thee approval of God. Christianity teaches that God loves and accepts us because of God’s nature and character, not because of ours. Muslims have a code of law, Buddhists have an eight-fold path to follow, animist religions have sacrifices and rituals to perform. By contrast, Christianity teaches that we find the favour of God not by what we do, but by trusting in what Jesus did for us on the cross. That’s why it is a faith about grace. It goes to the heart of what Christians believe (114).
When things go wrong there are three options:
1. Escalate the conflict. (Mets vs. Royals!) The issue is revenge, vengeance, escalation of the conflict.
2. Repay measure for measure: that is, the lex talionis of law: eye for an eye.
3. Grace and forgiveness. Matthew 5:38-48 records Jesus’ fundamental undoing of the inviolability of revenge and retributive justice. [Speaking of which, are not most theories of the atonement rooted in the inviolability of retributive justice?]
We need grace because all have sinned. But Romans 5:8 says while we were sinners God’s love sends the Son for our sins. The cross is God’s solution to the justice problem surrounding sin. What we see in the cross is the justice of love, not the justice of retribution. His summary:
As we look on the crucified one, we are confronted with the truth that his death is a consequence of our sin. We realize that the death he dies is the death we should have died. The power of looking at one who has substituted for us is convicting. To truly look at the cross is to be overwhelmed. It is to repent – to be deeply, forcefully, gut-wrenchingly sorry for repeatedly shaking the fist at the One who made us and loves us. It is to find ourselves begging for forgiveness and committing to a life of obedience and of following the One who died on our behalf. This is the justice of love – it actually changes the situation. Tit for tat merely levels the slate. The loving justice of the cross makes enemies friends. This is a far deeper level of justice. It is justice that transforms (124).
Humans, including those forgiven, may well turn this grace into cheap grace.