We’re not the only ones who do grace, y’know.

Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace.

The story is told that, many years ago, a conference was convened to discuss the study of comparative religions. Theologians and experts from various fields of religious studies gathered from all over the world to tackle certain knotty questions relating to Christianity and its similarities or dissimilarities to other faiths. One particularly interesting seminary was held to determine whether there was anything unique about the Christian faith. A number of Christianity’s features were put on the table for discussion. Was it the incarnation? No; other religions also had various versions of the gods coming down in human form. Might it be the resurrection? No, various versions of the dead rising again were found in other faiths as well.

On and on the discussion went without any resolution in sight. At some point, after the debate had been underway for a time, C.S. Lewis wandered in late. Taking his seat, he asked a colleague, “What’s the rumpus about?” and was told that they were seeking to find Christianity’s unique trait among the world religions. In the straightforward, no-nonsense, commonsense approach that was to make Lewis famous, he immediately said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” As the other scholars thought about that for a moment, they concluded that Lewis was right: It is grace. No other religion had ever made the ultimate acceptance by the Almighty so absolutely unconditional. In other faiths, there is usually some notion of earning points. Whether it was karma, Buddhist-like steps among the path to serenity, or some similar system, the idea was that to receive the favor of the gods one had to earn the favor of the gods.

Not in Christianity, at least not in true Christianity. Hoezee 41-42

Philip Yancey was so impressed by it, he retold the story in his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace? which is where I first heard it. Hoezee says he heard it from Peter Kreeft, in a speech Kreeft gave at Calvin College. I’ve no doubt he did.

Too bad it’s gotta be bunk though.

Told to make C.S. Lewis sound clever. Smarter than those religion experts, who somehow never read anything G.K. Chesterton wrote about the uniqueness of Christian grace. But Lewis, and any religion scholar who’s not a chauvinistic ninny, would know full well grace is found in other religions.

Grace is in Judaism, ’cause grace is all over the Old Testament. The LORD rescued the Hebrews from Egypt, not because they were a great and deserving people who merited salvation, but purely out of his love. Dt 7.7-8 The LORD gave them Palestine, not because they deserved it, but because he promised it to Abraham and their ancestors. Dt 9.5 We make the same mistake Pharisees did, and confuse the Law with the foundation of their faith. But the foundation is Abraham—who trusted the LORD, and the LORD graciously considered his faith to be righteousness. Ge 15.6

Grace is in Islam. Those whose only experiences with Islam is with its legalists, assume it’s not. They assume Muslims struggle to follow Islam’s rules because it’s how they earn heaven. It’s not. Muslims are quick to remind people we can follow the rules perfectly, yet still not know whether you attain heaven, ’cause heaven has nothing to do with the rules. Only God decrees who’s going to heaven or not, and it’s entirely based on his grace. The Quran begins, Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi, “In God’s name—most gracious, most merciful.” Muslim prayers regularly address him this way. They’re continual reminders of his grace.

Grace is even found in Hinduism. Karma only gets people so far, y’know. But Hinduism’s gods can be appealed to, intervene, and push people ahead a little further. Apparently they can be gracious.

That’s the thing: Scratch the surface of every religion, and you’ll find despite any legalism they might have, they also have grace to grease the wheels. Otherwise their wheels can’t turn.

Nope, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and grace. In fact many’s the time Christians don’t practice these things… and other religions do, and frustrated Christians see this, quit Jesus, and go try those other religions.

Yeah, I’ve heard many a Christian apologist claim we’re the only ones who do grace. We’d sure like to think so, wouldn’t we? But we make that claim only when we don’t know squat about other religions. (Or we hope our debate opponents don’t know squat—and lying to win such debates is evil, Dt 5.20 so don’t do that.)

Graceless religion doesn’t work.

Before I studied comparative religion, I believed the Lewis story: I taught Christianity does grace and other religions don’t. Even said so in the textbook I gave my bible students:

Every other religion says we need to be good. If we are good, all the time, perfectly, we will be saved. But they admit that no one can really be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. At best, we can be mostly perfect.

So every other religion has a problem. They say they can save you. All you have to do is be perfect. They tell you how to do it. They teach you that if you are perfect, you will be saved. But they admit you really can’t be perfect. No one can. Now, if you can’t be perfect, you can’t be saved. So really, they can’t save you. They claim they can, but they really can’t. They’re false.

Christianity is the only religion that doesn’t have that problem. God saves us. Problem solved. Leslie 8

Yep, got that wrong. I didn’t know other religions made no such claim—that people had to be good all the time in order to be saved. They’ll insist people try to be good all the time… as will we Christians. But they know humans are fallible, and therefore there’s gotta be some grace in the system. Otherwise people despair, quit, and try something else. Something which offers them the grace humanity needs, and can’t be saved without.

I see this all the time among Christians who are in graceless churches. They’re very frustrated practitioners. Often they’re convinced their religion is futile: No matter how good they’re trying to be, deep down they’re pretty sure they’re doomed and going to hell. They can’t possibly please God at this rate, and earn heaven. They’re going through the motions… because they’re pretty sure there’s no hope in any other religion, and don‘t know where else to go, so they stay put. And despair. And don’t even bother to love God anymore.

Obviously this happens in other religions too. ’Cause I’ve met these people too. Either they’re staying put, or they took a giant chance and tried out Christianity, came to Jesus, and share their stories of despair in their testimonies. And are always startled when I tell ’em their previous religion does offer grace in there somewhere: “No it doesn’t. I was in that religion 20 years; I should know. How would you know?—you’ve only ever been Christian!” I don’t doubt their experiences in their former religions were totally graceless; like I said, there are Christians having those very experiences in their churches. I’m just saying, as taught by the people who started or currently lead the religion, there’s grace. You didn’t see it; you didn’t find it; you knew you needed it, and the Holy Spirit used that to draw you to Jesus. (Clever of him.) But grace was there… hidden. Hidden pretty deep, sometimes.

It’s this need for grace, this longing for forgiveness and acceptance, which drives people from one religion to another. Drives people to Jesus in droves. And when Christians suck, drives people away; it’s why we see so many ex-Christians joining Wicca. The Christians made ’em think God doesn’t love them. So maybe the Goddess will.

Graceless religions realize this is a problem. You know why Hindus in India freak out whenever the Christians come to town? Because they know all the people they’ve been crapping on—the Hindus of the lowest castes, who’ve been treated like garbage their whole lives long, who’ve not been shown a lick of grace by their fellow Hindus—will turn Christian as quick as they can. Which overturns the caste system altogether… and really annoys the people who were profiting by it.

But it happens all the time, all throughout history. The reason the Greco-Roman pagan religions, the Norse religions, and the Egyptian religions vanished off the face of the earth: It wasn’t because they were banned. Religions today get banned all the time, so they go underground and grow like kudzu. But those religions died out because they were based on fear, not grace. Jesus offers us freedom from fear. Fear-based religions only grow when there’s no freedom of religion. And whenever neo-Pagans try to bring those obsolete religions back, y’notice they never wanna return to fear: They have to insert grace into their revived systems. Where it didn’t previously exist. ’Cause without grace, it simply won’t grow.

Out-grace them.

I know young evangelists who are dumbfounded when they try to preach grace to people of other religions… only to be met by people who aren’t swayed at all.

I’ve had to explain: It’s not because they’re so entrenched in their ways, fear change, or don’t understand you, It’s because we don’t make God’s grace sound significantly different from the grace in their religion. We gotta show them something they desperately lack. They already believe God is gracious—and if it’s all the same to you, they’ll stay right where they are with their gracious God.

Yeah, we need to do a way better job of showing God’s grace. We gotta be loving, patient, kind, and exhibit all the Spirit’s fruit as best we can. But there’s one significant factor we also gotta show them: The Holy Spirit.

Y’see, God’s grace hasn’t just extended into the man Jesus, who died for our sins. His grace extends to the fact God is here, in our presence, indwelling us, empowering us. That’s what makes Christianity different from all other religions: Not grace, but that our God is living and active. Top that.

In other religions, their gods aren’t alive. They’re distant. Standoffish. Inert. (Fake.) It’s why their prayers don’t work. But ours do. It’s why they pray for healing and nothing happens. But our God heals. Their gods’ grace can only go so far. Our God’s grace extends all the way down to the ground.

So share how God’s been gracious to you. Give ’em real-life examples of his real-life, miraculous grace. Pray that God does for them what he does for you. Pray that he does way more for them than the gods they think do for them. Put your grace into action.

Grace.

Pagans.