The following editorial is republished from the April 8, 2007, Paducah Sun.
The story goes that the late author, English professor and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was once invited to a gathering of theologians where the discussion began before he arrived. The assembled group of learned Biblical scholars was debating what, if anything, is unique about Christianity among world religions.
The creation story and the account of the great flood, the incarnation of God and even the virgin birth are elements of other world religions, as are the commands to do good works for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind. The promise of eternal reward and the threat of eternal punishment are also found in other religions. After much debate the theologians came up empty.
When Lewis arrived, they put the question to him, "What makes Christianity unique?"
"Simple," he answered. "Grace."
Grace is "undeserved reward" or "unmerited favor." It is receiving what you don't deserve. And its companion -- mercy -- is not receiving what you do deserve. It is indeed simple, too simple for many.
In the two millennia since Jesus walked on the earth, His message of grace has been passed down by His followers, the church. According to the Bible, which is the foundation of the church's teaching, God extended grace to His people throughout history. But the ultimate expression of His grace came in the work and person of Jesus Christ, His son -- true God and true man.
Today is Easter, the highest festival of the year for one-third of the world's population called Christian. The season of Lent -- focusing on the passion, or suffering, of Christ -- concluded Friday. The church teaches that on Good Friday Jesus suffered a criminal's death, even though he was innocent of any crime. But, because of his innocence, death could not hold him. The Bible records that Jesus rose physically from the grave on Easter.
Those who had watched Him die spoke with him, touched him, ate with him -- literally -- after He rose from the dead. Even though it happened just as he had told them, they marveled at the miracle.
In that one act -- the event all of history revolves around -- Christ triumphed over sin, death and Satan for all time.
But why was it necessary? According to the Bible, because all mankind inherited the sin of the first humans and deserved punishment. But God in his mercy sent His Son, who lived the sinless life humans are incapable of living, and then died as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of all.
In the Christian religion, to be saved from eternal wrath and receive eternal salvation, all one has to do is believe in that sacrifice. But salvation can hardly be called free. It was paid for with the blood of Christ with his sacrificial death on the cross.
Around the globe today, followers of Christ suffer great persecution, as severe as the world has ever seen, for no other reason than their unwavering faith. More Christians died the martyr's death, tens of millions -- during the last century than in all the previous centuries combined. And the persecution has continued unabated in the infant years of the third millennium. Yet in the places where persecution is most severe, the church is growing most rapidly.
The contrast between the religion in which adherents are willing to die for their faith and the one in which they are willing to kill for it has never been more marked. Yet Christians willingly suffer torture and even death for the surpassing joy found in Christ.
Jesus commanded His followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. It makes no more sense for them to do this than it did for the living God to send His sinless Son to die for a sinful world. Yet it is occurring today, especially today, throughout the world as opponents of Christianity violently attack believers on this holiest of days.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, believers extend grace to their persecutors, just as it was extended to them in Christ.
Throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois, believers will gather this morning, joining with more than 2 billion of their brethren around the world, to celebrate that grace which C.S. Lewis correctly identified as the unique aspect of Christianity. And those churches welcome all who want to hear more.