The Unique Element of Christianity

At a conference years ago where experts from all over the world gathered to discuss comparative religions, they argued whether one religion had something the rest didn’t. They couldn’t think of a way Christianity was unique.

They listed different elements of different religions. Every religion included their own versions of incarnation and resurrection. The group thought they had confirmed Christianity wasn’t unique, only the same as other religions.

Then a theologian came into the room who had just arrived. When he was told the topic of the conversation, he replied, “But there is a unique element. It’s God’s gift of grace.” Everyone agreed.

Every religion had some sort of requirement to earn their god’s approval. Only God, the God of Christianity, provided for a person’s acceptance because of the death of Jesus Christ for sin.

The world offers a way to earn approval, but only God offers his approval as a free gift through His Son. Grace is that undeserved love and favor God gives us, even though He knows we can never deserve it, earn it, or repay Him for it.

Titus 3:5 teaches us, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (ESV).

That kind of unconditional love was demonstrated for me many years ago when Larry and I attended the wedding of our good friends. After the reception when it was time for us to head home, Larry and I spoke with the couple, wishing them God’s blessings.

As we turned away, the bride spoke up. “Wait, Kathy, I have a gift for you. I’ll go get it.”

I stood there dumbfounded. Wait a minute, I brought her a gift, she’s not supposed to give me a gift. I’m not in her wedding so I didn’t earn a gift and I didn’t do anything to help her. Why would she give me a gift?

I was stunned. I turned to Larry, but he returned my gaze with a questioning look on his face.

Within a few moments, the bride returned. She handed me a white box with a delicate white ribbon wrapped around it. I wanted to say, “I can’t take this from you.” But to tell you the truth, I love gifts! I was so curious that I resisted refusing it and thanked her instead.

As Larry and I drove home, I untied the ribbon and opened the box. Inside was a beautiful, sterling silver candy dish. I couldn’t believe it.

I held it out for Larry to see and we both pondered the mystery of why we had received it.

Then I noticed that the initials of our friends were engraved in the center of the dish. I realized how meaningful the gift was.

“Larry, this dish reminds me of the gift of salvation God gives. Just as I didn’t do anything to deserve or earn this dish, so God offered the gift of His love and of being His child, even though I couldn’t do anything to deserve it. Isn’t that just like His grace?”

We both smiled.

Over these many years, I still don’t know why our friends gave us that gift. But each time I see it, it reminds me of God’s wonderful gift. Even though it’s been so long, the couple’s engraved initials are still there. That represents the truths of Ephesians 1:13-14,

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (ESV).

The “seal” Paul refers to is like our modern-day notary stamp. It authenticates and makes the document valid. It’s like God saying, “I’m pledging myself to always consider you my child, no matter what. Here’s my mark of my Spirit within you to demonstrate my commitment.”

There is a significant difference between God’s mark on my soul and the engraving on the candy dish. Someone could somehow scrape the initials off my candy dish, but the seal God has placed in my spirit cannot be removed. If it could, God’s gift would be based on my performance and not his free gift of grace.

I’m so glad I received that gift from the bride and the free gift of salvation from God.

That’s the surprising and unique element of Christianity.