There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (ROMANS 8:1-2).
On a road called Edmonton Trail in the City of Calgary, Alberta, there is displayed an atheist billboard. It’s looking kind of tattered and shabby these days, but it’s still there. I guess the atheists have run out of money for its upkeep. If you’re headed north toward McKnight Boulevard, it’s off to your left, on 35th Avenue, just past “Barbecues Galore.” It has a large picture of a pleasant-looking young woman (whose name appears to be “Jenn”) who tells us that “Praying won’t help; doing will!”
All on its own, that is a questionable statement—although it does contain a molecule of truth: if all we do is pray—without ever backing our words up with actions—then our prayers will lack the kind of power they could have.
However, there’s another statement on that billboard—and it’s a familiar atheist catch-phrase: “Without God, we’re all good.”
“Without God, we’re all good.” Atheists say this, glibly—like they think it’s a self-evident fact; as if anyone who hears it will immediately and unquestioningly accept it. But they are naïve. Or maybe they just think the rest of us are. Because it’s easy to mock that statement. All you’d have to do is replace the picture on that sign. Instead of that pleasant-looking, smiling young woman …
Suppose you replaced her with a photograph of Adolf Hitler? Or Joseph Stalin? Or a child-murderer like Clifford Olson or John Wayne Gacy? Or a serial-killer and rapist like Ted Bundy or Paul Bernardo?
Picture it. A ten-foot-high portrait of Charles Manson, looking thrilled with himself, and grinning broadly as he informs us: “Without God, we’re all good.” Obviously, that is not true. And anyone who puts a slogan like that on a billboard for all to see … Well, I have to think they’re just not very …“bright.”
With God or without him, we are not “all good.”
Now, I don’t think I’m in quite the same league as Charles Manson or Hitler, but I am a sinner. And so I would never dare attach my own likeness—or my name—to any claim of “goodness.”
As it says in the First Letter of John, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Even with God, we are not “all good.”
However, with God, we are also “not condemned.” The apostle Paul expands upon this theme in chapter eight of his Letter to the Romans. Since we have died and risen with Christ, he says, we have therefore been transformed; we are “new creations.”
Earlier in that same letter, Paul explains how God demonstrated his love for us: “While we were still sinners,” he writes, “Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
This kind of amazing forgiveness and love is called grace. It was given to us when we did not deserve it.
Of course, we don’t deserve it now, either. Nor will we ever deserve it. But the good news is: that doesn’t matter. Grace means that God has forgotten about my past sin … so I should forget about it, also.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:1-2). Grace means that forgiveness and reconciliation with God have come—not based upon what we have or have not done—but rather, based entirely upon who God is.
Philip Yancey—in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?—tells a story about the great British academic, novelist, and theologian C.S. Lewis.
During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.
Aware of our inbuilt resistance to grace, Jesus talked about it often. He described a world suffused with God’s grace: where the sun shines on people good and bad; where birds gather seeds gratis, neither plowing nor harvesting to earn them; where untended wildflowers burst into bloom on the rocky hillsides. Like a visitor from a foreign country who notices what the natives overlook, Jesus saw grace everywhere.
[Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 45.]
Christianity alone makes this assertion: that salvation is offered to undeserving human beings without cost or condition. Indeed, Christianity asserts that grace cannot be earned; it comes—exclusively—as a free gift.
However, this gift of grace must be accepted. It is delivered postage paid, not C.O.D.—but you still have to sign for the package. You have to agree to receive it.
I can hold out to you the greatest gift in the world—but if you never accept it, it is never yours. If you cannot admit that you need grace, you can never receive it; indeed, you will never understand that you need it. C. S. Lewis said that this is the “catch” of grace.
Quoting the psalmist (Ps. 14:3), the apostle Paul famously said: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). That quotation, I think, makes clear what Jesus meant when he said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
Is any one of us without need of a physician?
Grace means that God’s love and forgiveness come to us free and without cost. It is a gift offered to each and every one of us. All we have to do is accept it.
Have you taken that step? If not … what are you waiting for?