Why Can We Only Be Saved By Grace

One of the major differences between Christianity and every other religion is its central teaching that we can only be saved by Grace.  This is so counterintuitive.  To most, even many Christians, it makes no sense.  Every other religion teaches that we are saved by adhering to a code of ethics, by doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, in short, by being good.  Going against this tsunami of wider religious tradition, not to mention common sense, either Christianity has this all wrong or it’s revealing a deeper Truth no other worldview has grasped.

The parable of the Prodigal Son was Jesus’ premier teaching on grace.  A father, who clearly represents God, has two sons.  The younger son asks for his share of the inheritance—while his father is still alive.  Effectively, he’s telling him: “You’re dead to me!”     

Astonishingly, his father gives him his inheritance—about half the father’s wealth—which, after getting as far away as possible from his father, this son quickly proceeds to squander on prostitutes and other immoral activity.  Forced to eat the scraps the pigs refuse to eat, he decides to take a chance and return to his father, hoping against hope that his father might take him back, not as a son of course, but as one of the hired hands. 

As he appears on the distant horizon, his father sees him—clearly, his father’s been watching and waiting, hoping against hope that his son might just return to him one day.  In a shocking and scandalous display for a man of his stature in that day (and even more shocking and scandalous for a father who’s been treated so disrespectfully, a father who’s supposed to represent God!), he leaps to his feet and runs out to his son, embracing and kissing him.  Then, without waiting for any kind of apology, he puts a ring on his son’s finger, a coat on his back, and shoes on his feet—all poignant symbols that he has instantly taken him back as his son.  Finally, he has the fatted calf—saved for only the most special of occasions—killed so that the celebration of his son’s return may begin.   

The older brother, toiling away in the field, hears all this commotion and is infuriated.  He refuses to join the party.  When his father comes out and pleads with him to join them, the son protests that he never even gets a kid goat to celebrate with his friends even though, unlike his carousing brother, he’s been working away for his father all along. 

I hated this parable as a kid.  It was so unfair.  It didn’t make any sense.  The older brother got a raw deal.  He was good, obedient, faithfully toiling away for his father.  He deserved the fatted calf.  He earned it.

The younger son didn’t even deserve to be taken back as a hired hand.  He had his chance and blew it.

What took me a long time to realize was that Jesus intended the parable to elicit this reaction.  He intended it to shock us out of our demand for fairness, for what we deserve, and lead us deeper to see the unconditional love of the Father, of God.  

This is the key to the parable—and to life!  While the younger son outwardly rejected his father, the older son was just as far off.  He had no real relationship with his father, approaching it as, essentially, a commercial transaction: be good and, in turn, get the reward you deserve.

By nature, love—true, unconditional love—can’t be earned.  Trying to earn love ruins it.  It turns it into a something else, a (commercial) transaction.  It makes it conditional, and that’s NOT love.  By nature, love can only be received as a sheer gift, the way the younger son experienced it upon his return—in other words, by Grace!  

Heaven, eternity, is ultimately about being in communion with God, intimately united to Him in love. 

The problem with any other approach to God is that it turns God into a means to an end.  If we try to earn our way to Heaven by being good, we ruin any chance of accepting and knowing His love.  Counterintuitive as it may be, Grace is the only way to have a real relationship with God. 

Grace is the only way we can be saved. 

What do you think about the parable of the Prodigal Son?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  You can leave them on the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website.  Also, please “Like” our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel if you haven’t had a chance to yet.  Thank you for all your continued support of this ministry!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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