Last night, I sat outside until midnight with seventeen college-aged interns talking about what happened at BigStuf camps this summer. This morning, they packed their bags and headed back to their different states. I was moved last night by several comments from the students about how their understanding of grace this summer helped them break free of so much guilt and legalism.

It reminds me of my favorite book on the subject of grace, “The Grace of God” by Andy Stanley. One of the reasons I like it so much is because it clarifies the distinction that sets Christianity apart from so many other religions. It focuses on the one issue that should characterize how we see ourselves and others. The issue really is about grace. I wish every parent and leader would keep this book in their library. I think it would help us all live a better story. Here is one of my favorite sections:

“Everybody in every religion eventually falls short on some point. We know that to be the case, because all these systems offer advice on what to do when a person messes up. But that’s where the common ground ends. At that point, each has its own approach to making up for failure to adhere to the rules. So to summarize:

  • There is a God.
  • God has a standard for individuals to live by.
  • But it’s too hard.
  • Good luck!
  • See you on the other side . . . maybe.

Religion highlights our inability to live up to a divine standard, thus creating a gap. But experience does as well. We fall short of our own expectations; we don’t need religion to tell us that we really aren’t all that good. We’ve all had to say, “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.” Once we fail, there’s something in us that prompts us to try to make up for our failures with better behavior, generosity, or promises. And while we can do better going forward, there’s nothing we can do about the past. We can’t go back and be a better parent, better husband, or better wife. We can’t go back and un-cheat, un-lie, un-addict. Being perfect going forward doesn’t erase the past.

That’s what makes Christianity so unique. That’s what makes grace so powerful. Jesus came into the world and did what nobody else could do. He affirmed the list. He kept the Law. He declared God’s law good. But then he offered himself as the answer to the question no one could answer: “Now that I’ve messed up, what do I do?” What the rules and the rule givers could not do, Jesus did by laying down his life as the full and final sacrifice for sin. Christ’s death and resurrection signaled to the world that the kingdom of God is not reserved for good people. It is reserved for forgiven people.

Good forgiven people. Pretty good forgiven people. Not-so-good forgiven people. And people like the criminal on the cross who didn’t have any good to bargain with.”