Grace, The Great Equalizer

What is your reaction to the following statement?

Jesus shed his blood to redeem the sins of all mankind. That means the same blood that was shed for your sins was also shed for the sins of Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong Il, and Charlie Manson. The same blood was also shed for Marilyn Manson, Richard Dawkins, and the terrorists who knocked down the Twin Towers. If Charlie Manson fell on his knees in repentance today and accepted Christ as his savior, he would go to the same heaven to which you and I are going. And Jesus would greet him in the same way at the pearly gates, saying, “Welcome, my son! Enter into your eternal reward.” 

Some people really have a problem with this scenario. They struggle to accept that Jesus loves murderers, rapists, and slanderers of his name as much as any Christian, and that he is willing to forgive their sins with the same grace as he forgives white lies and petty theft. It just doesn’t seem…fair.

However, that’s what makes grace such a revolutionary concept. It flies in the face of our earthly system of privilege, hierarchy and earning. It puts rich and powerful CEOs on the same footing as office janitors, masters on the same level as slaves, men on the same level as women, clergy on the same level as laity, and virgins on the same level as prostitutes. Hallelujah, right?

It wasn’t always this way. The Old Testament law classified sins by their ‘severity’ in God’s sight, and they required different forms of atonement. If a common Israelite sinned, he had to offer grain, pigeons, a lamb or a ram (depending on the sin) to be sacrificed at the temple. If a priest sinned, he had to offer a bull. For really atrocious sins, the penalty was death or exile. Also, only people from a certain tribe and lineage could serve as priests to God. Anyone who dared approach the holy place beyond their prescribed station paid with their lives.

Jesus’ death changed all of that. Here’s what the Bible says about the new covenant of grace:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).

For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave (1 Corinthians 7:22).

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17[a]).

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. […] Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:22, 25).

The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:4-5[a]).

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen (Revelation 1:5-6).

Christ’s sacrifice dismantled the old order of things. Instead of the priesthood being limited to people of a certain heritage, every redeemed person is now a priest unto God. Instead of men keeping women in subjection, they are commanded to treat them with great love and equal respect. Instead of prophecy and visions being reserved only for ordained individuals, anyone filled with the Spirit can operate in these gifts. Instead of sins requiring various methods of atonement, all sins are forgiven in the same manner…for free…just by asking.

This is why Christians teach that God views all sins as equal. It’s not that God gets just as offended over pilfering a pack of gum as He does over genocide. It’s just that the same blood is required to forgive both sins. Jesus didn’t shed two types of blood on the cross. There’s only one blood, one redemption–whether you stabbed your neighbor and seduced his wife, or just permanently ‘borrowed’ his lawn mower. This is why the Pharisees (and others) found the gospel so unsettling. Grace threatened their notions of power, privilege, and salvation by works.

In reality, I find the concept of grace to be extremely humbling. My pre-salvation actions of going to church, being a good citizen and avoiding the “big” sins don’t amount to a hill of beans in the eyes of God. What matters is the blood of Christ. And the same blood that cleansed me has also cleansed liars, prostitutes, thieves and drug addicts. Christ welcomes us all as co-heirs in his heavenly inheritance. In spite of our past, inglorious shortcomings, we call each other “brother” and “sister.” Grace has made us equal. Hallelujah!

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3 responses to “Grace, The Great Equalizer

  1. There is no doubt that the Cross is as “offensive” to religious as it is to secular sensibilities; but that’s what makes Unconditional Love unconditional.

    The root of human *evil* is not that God loved Mother Teresa more than Hitler; but that Hitler loves God less than Mother Teresa does. That may or may not still be the case now that both have entered the fullness of Eternal Life. I sometimes get a “feeling” that I should pray for Hitler. He was an artist before he became a moral monster. The critics say that his work is mediocre; but I googled “Hitler’s paintings” and I thought it was pretty good.

    • “The root of human *evil* is not that God loved Mother Teresa more than Hitler; but that Hitler loves God less than Mother Teresa does.”

      What a terrific way of thinking about it. And you’re right: many religious institutions have a problem with the equality of grace. They want the church to remain hierarchical and patriarchal so certain individuals can feed their need to feel special.

  2. I, for one, have become thoroughly disgusted with professing Christians, of both the conservitive and liberal persuasions, who have given up the hope that Grace can transform the world, have put their faith in a dysfunctional political process instead and use theology, not as a means to deepen their understanding of the Mysteries of faith; but as a polemical resource to get an ego boost or an adrenalin fix.

    “Once ‘the religious hypothesis’ is disengaged from the opportunity to inflict humiliation and pain on people who do not profess the correct creed, it loses interest for many people.”–Richard Rorty, Religious Faith, Intellectual Responsibility and Romance

    I respectfully recommend the following articles to anyone interested in serious theological reflection.

    http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com/?p=2849

    http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com/?p=2944

    The Helwys Society is a Freewill Baptist (Arminian) theological resource. Although I feel more “at home” in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition than I do in the Latin/Western Christian Traditions and do not share many of their beliefs, I am impressed with the degree of theological depth communicated in simple concepts through common, every-day language on this blog.