What makes Christianity unique is also what makes it too difficult for people to accept. In all other religions, without exception, a person's own efforts are essential. But in Christianity, being reconciled to and finding peace with God (salvation) is entirely by grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 plainly states the essence of Christian conversion- "For by grace you have been saved..." But it is precisely this truth that makes Christianity the hardest of all religions because even as hard (read: "impossible") as it is to work for your salvation, is it even harder still to accept that we can do nothing to merit it!
Amazing! This was John Newton's one word response to his miraculous realisation. Amazing Grace! He wrote. And indeed it was when John Newton accepted that God had done it all for him, that he finally understood what God's Word meant when it described salvation as being by "grace".
It was during the fifth century A.D. that a British monk named Pelagius visited Rome and saw the people living in decadence. He denounced their loose living and scorned their appeal to being saved by grace. He over-reacted to what he saw and taught that God would never freely give salvation to people who lived such sinful lives. They must, he insisted, prove their worthiness for God's salvation by working hard for it. This teaching, while perhaps being well-intentioned, was rebutted by one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time, who interestingly, didn't live in Rome, but rather resided in North Africa. Augustine of Hippo demolished Pelagius's idea of 'salvation by works' by showing from the Scriptures that salvation was by grace not works."Pelagianism", as it became known, was roundly condemned by The Council of Carthage in 418AD.
The idea that we can do nothing to earn or merit our salvation is what makes Christianity so hard because we are conditioned to work for what we get. And rightly so, but when it comes to being made right with God, salvation, only His grace is able to save us. So what should we do with our works? The Bible is so emphatic that our works cannot save us that we are commanded to repent of these "dead" works (Hebrews 6:1 and 9:14). The context of these Hebrew passages is that these "dead works" are not acts of evil, rather they are religious acts of piety. That is, even the best we can offer God - no matter how religious we make it look - is a "dead work" that must be repented of.
This is what makes Christianity so hard. We are not in control. Rather we must submit to God's control. We can not set the terms for how we are reconciled to God. Rather we must accept God's terms of salvation- total surrender to Him, an acknolwedgement of our guilt, calling upon Him for forgiveness and salvation. At this point, even some Christians think this is when God's grace is activated. But the Scriptures reveals that not even any of these responses to God are possible without God's grace. For by grace you are saved through faith, this is not of yourselves...it is the gift of God. We can't even claim to have done something to have even activated the grace of God. This is what makes Christianity so hard!
We read on in Ephesians 2, and we see that the role of grace continues after we have accepted Christ's offer of salvation. For we are created in Christ Jesus for good works...
they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. (Acts 14:26)But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1Cor. 15:10)And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2Cor. 9:8)
We are saved by God's grace. This is what makes Christianity so hard. But living for Christ (read: working for Christ) is enabled by God's grace. This is what makes Christianity so easy.
Matthew 11:30 ¶ "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Jesus Christ)
Oh God, thank You for saving me, cleansing me from my sin, redeeming me from the Enemy of my soul, healing my blindness and adopting me into Your royal family.
Help me now to live for You, to trust You, to remain faithful to You, no matter what my circumstances, or my feelings, or my objections. I need Your empowering grace to live for You and to make You and Your love known.
By Your grace I can do for You what I could never do for You on my own.
I need You.