By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
–Ephesians 2:8-9

Forgiven people should be better forgivers because we understand grace. During a symposium on comparative religions in London, a group of religious scholars from all over the world had gathered to compare various religions. The discussion question that day was: “What makes Christianity unique from other religions?” The people in the symposium proposed several possibilities for what made Christianity unique. The incarnation? The resurrection? Yet there are other religions that have versions of those stories as well. They were having this debate when the Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis walked into the room. He said, “What is the ruckus about?” They explained they were trying to determine what made Christianity unique from other religions. He said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Every other religion says God’s love is conditional. You have to earn God’s love. Do this, do this, do that, and God will love you. Only Christianity makes God’s forgiveness unconditional. Every other world religion can be summarized by two letters: D-O. Do this, and God will forgive you. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. It is based on what Christ has done for us.

What is grace? Grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. I was talking to a woman not long ago whose husband was guilty of infidelity. According to the biblical standard, she had every right to divorce her mate for his unfaithfulness, but she chose to reconcile and work on rebuilding their marriage. That husband was the recipient of grace–receiving something he didn’t deserve. And of course, the basis for extending grace to others is the grace God extended to us when He forgave us.

You know, there is a great misunderstanding about God forgiving us. We think it is no big deal for God to forgive us; it’s like when we overlook a smart-aleck comment from one of our kids. But God is not like us at all. A just God cannot allow sin to go unpunished. In Exodus 23:7 God says, “I will not acquit the guilty.” A holy God cannot simply pronounce a guilty person not guilty. Nahum 1:3 says, “The Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” A just God can’t say, “I know you deserve hell, but I am not going to punish for your sin.” Where there is sin, there must be punishment, for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Well, then, how can any of us ever be saved? Here’s how: God extends us grace, giving us what we don’t deserve by giving somebody else what He didn’t deserve. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul explained it this way: “[God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Sin has to be punished, but the good news is that Christ willingly bore the punishment we deserve for our sin.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “The Basis for All Forgiveness” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2015.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.