My best friend and I walked the neighborhood while I shared with her all my questions and issues with Christianity. I hadn’t attended church in years but could feel something stirring in my heart. I struggled with the idea that murderers may walk the golden streets of heaven.
“It doesn’t make any sense! A person can spend their whole life hurting people – killing them even! – but in jail can repent and earn eternal life? Really?”
This continues to be a concept I struggle to understand, even as I mature in my faith. I tend to view sin as a hierarchy: really bad sins at the top, lesser sins at the bottom. Murder, hurting children, adultery, abuse, and stealing are “really bad sins” in my mind, while white lies, gossiping, being judgmental, and envy fall under the “lesser sins” category. This line of thinking makes it hard for me to understand this concept of grace.
I recently read Jesus’ account of the laborers in the vineyard. You can find this story in Matthew 20:1-16. Jesus tells of a master who hires laborers to work his vineyard. He finds some laborers early in the morning and they agree on a price for the day’s work: a denarius (which is a typical day’s wage). Over the course of the day, the master of the house sees others standing idly in the marketplace and invites them to work. They agree, and join the other laborers in the vineyard. The last of these only worked an hour. The master then calls his foreman to pay the laborers, beginning with those who started their work last. The early laborers see these men getting paid a denarius and start to get excited; logic tells them they shall receive more than the agreed upon price! Yet, they receive the same as those who began the work last. They grumble and the master says to them: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:13-15, ESV)
Now, in the past I’ve been stumped over this one. Of course those who worked longer deserve more! It seemed nonsensical to me. It’s a good thing I’m not God.
Here is the good news of God’s grace: He freely gives to those who seek. By definition, grace is “undeserved acceptance and love received from another.” Within Christianity it “speaks of the saving activity of God that is manifested in the gift of His Son to die in the place of sinners” (Holman QuickSource Bible Dictionary, p. 138). The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to this parable: whether you’ve been a Christian your whole life or two hours, the gift of eternal life is yours. It is the gift God so freely gave the world because of His deep love (John 3:16-17). God generously sent His Son to die for my sins, so who am I to question this beautiful gift of grace extended to another?
Jesus models this while he dies on the Cross. Luke shares the interaction between Jesus and the two criminals being crucified on each side of him. They are legit criminals, unlike Jesus who is innocent. The one criminal chastised Jesus for not saving both himself and them. But the other criminal spoke out and rebuked him, saying “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41) This criminal recognizes who Jesus is and speaks out in his defense. He then says to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (v. 42) Jesus responds, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (v. 43) This criminal received the gift of eternal life as he hung dying on a cross next to Jesus. God’s grace.
It’s never too late. If you know someone who hasn’t accepted Jesus, don’t give up on them. Keep praying and sharing the good news of God’s grace. Nothing in their past disqualifies them from this free gift. Nothing.