Someone asked C.S. Lewis what sets Christianity apart from the major religions of the world. The famed Christian apologist, who tackled profound theological subjects with crystal-clear clarity in the relatively few books he wrote in his lifetime which took entire seminaries to articulate in their voluminous curricula and copious PhD tomes, answered without hesitation: Grace.
What indeed is grace? Now grace is impossible to discuss without delving into the mysteries of agapic love. In a nutshell, agape is love without strings attached. That is an egregiously awkward simplification indeed. The Bible is much more exhaustive in its treatment of this unique subject.
Agapic love sets no conditions, no boundaries, no rewards, no self-seeking agenda. It is love in spite of, not because of. In an absolutely Biblical and theological sense made meaningful simply because it is birthed in history, only one person was able to accomplish it. He voluntarily put his life in harm’s way and in that moment when the sins of mankind were cast upon Him totally and exclusively, the Triune God cried. God grieved because the sinless Son died. The Triune God wept in joy because man can now receive His love the way His justice–seeking Law could not prevent any longer. All of His love, yes. And to wit, man is bestowed as well the full participation in His grand kingdom plans beginning on earth. Heaven can wait a little, you might say.
The God-man Christ Jesus was pierced on the Cross for man’s sins – past, present, and future. He did not commit any of those. He was not responsible for our lapses and omissions. But He made Himself fully responsible during that agapic moment.
What is so amazing is that He died for us even before we were born – long before we knew Him. He died even for those who would reject His sacrificial offer of love centuries later. He made this choice – one that is so steeped in the mysterious inner workings of the Trinity – that He acted on by obediently following what such decision entailed. He plunged Himself into the abyss of the darkest forces in the cosmic universe at the appointed time.
It is stated in the Bible that no sinful human being can satisfy the preconditions of the Cross, even if he died obediently with the greatest intentions that the greatest human being can supply. The requirements of the Law are so high that it demanded the death of a perfect God-man. God literally became man without losing His deity so He can die because as God – in spiritual form – He just couldn’t. Therein lies the dilemma only the Triune God was able to resolve. The dilemma centered on how simultaneously a holy God assesses man’s sins together with how He showers His holy love to him – he who is flawed but still the crowning masterpiece of God’s creative acts and truly the apple of His tender eyes.
God could never legally unleash the fullness of His love upon man without first addressing the problem of sin. Think of this judge who released a pennyless accused from the judicial punishment stemming from his wrongdoing by paying for the required fee from himself in behalf of the convicted, and henceforth releasing him for good from the legal hold.
Since man missed the mark so badly – first with Adam – even full adherence to His commandments became for man impossible. The law of God only exposed man’s utter imprisonment in the dark abyss of sinfulness. Try as man may, he cannot climb out of it. It would take a supra-natural being like Jesus – both God and man, yet without sin in His nature or own deeds – to provide deliverance from the dilemma Adam and his race created. Only a perfect man can be extinguished on the scarlet Cross and satisfy the judicial demands of God’s just Law.
Grace, therefore, is where God’s love intersects with God’s holy righteousness. It is not gooey, sentimental kind of love that withholds punishment from whoever deserves it. It is tough merciful love that withholds further punishment because Someone else already had taken it voluntarily in man’s stead, and shall we emphasize yet again – agapically. All of it, all of the punishment legally due each one of us. We each deserved eternal death before Calvary Road re-routed mankind. Someone else made us not deserve it any further and put us – each and every one of us, yes, in Mercy Way.
Why did He do it? The Bible records that He did do it because He loved and loves us in His inimitable, supra-extraordinarily agapic Cross-way. Grace is only possible if God so chooses. As a result of His Son’s obedient death and resurrection, the Father can now bestow upon believers who accepted the gift of His merciful love they did not merit on their own – a love offered freely to any of us while we are yet physically alive. That is what sets Christianity apart from other religions like C. S. Lewis said.
Since Calvary, many Christians have followed Christ and through the examples of their lives Christ-like agapic love was manifested to the world. One such person who comes readily to mind is Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary to China, whose Olympic heroism was immortalized in the movie Chariots of Fire.
Pastor Gerry Miller of New Hope Church in Alsip, Illinois, copiously mentioned in his Sunday/Saturday sermons, two each in a row, of how Winston Churchill tried to arrange during World War II a clandestine prisoner swap with the Chinese government while Liddell was languishing in jail and dealing with what was to be discovered later on as brain tumor, not tuberculosis as had been first reported. Liddell at this time had been separated from his wife and children who had been mercifully returned to Canada by the Chinese government. To cut to the chase, Liddell politely declined the offer of freedom and gave it to a woman who was pregnant with a child at the time. Christ must have smiled in Heaven.
Or did He cry?
Eric Liddell subsequently died in prison without ever seeing his family again. This was revealed by the Chinese government only in 2008.
Eric Liddell is an stupendous example of agapic love resonating and resounding – and commemorating – the love that Christ first expressed. It is gratifying to learn from the annals of Christian history of many, many more such as disciple Liddell who gave of their lives through various examples in order that Christ’s love will reach many.
Has your life been touched by this kind of agapic love lately?
Further Information on Eric Liddell
3. What people who knew him said about him