Bill Hybels in his book, The God You’re Looking For, pp 116-118, recounts a story under the heading of The Scandal of Grace,
I once had lunch with a business executive with whom I’d been building a relationship. I asked for his napkin and his pen. The pen looked as if it cost at least two hundred dollars, so I knew I’d have his undivided attention if I used his pen instead of mine. He wasn’t about to let it out of his sight!
Taking his pen. I wrote GOD at the top of the napkin, then drew a line pointing down. Pointing to the word GOD, I said, “here’s God’s standard of holiness. Here’s a line.” and following the line downward, “and down here are the bad people of the world. Put and X somewhere on this line where you belong on the morality ladder.”
He did, and then I continued, “The gap between you and the holiness of God is the problem. You have fallen short of the standards of God’s holiness by your own admission. That gap is what you will stand accountable for on the day of judgment.”
I turned the napkin over and said, “All people tend to do one of two things with that shortfall.” I drew a line across the middle, then wrote, “The Moral Self-Improvement Plan.”
This is when people spend the rest of their lives trying to bring their X mark up a little higher. The Bible says it doesn’t work even if you give yourself a hundred lifetimes. You can’t get up to the place of moral perfection if you’re a fallen human being.”
Then on the other side of that dividing line, I wrote, “The Grace Plan.”
The guy said, “What’s that?”
“You’re not going to believe it. In the ‘Grace Plan’ God says, ‘I see the gap and I know you can’t make it by your own human strength, so I’m going to send Christ, My Son, to pay for the shortfall. Salvation and adoption into My family will be made available to you as a gift.'”
“Which of the two are you in?” I asked, “The Grace Plan or the Moral Self-Improvement Plan?”
“I’m in the Moral Self-Improvement Plan.”
I agreed. “From all i see of you, I think you are too.”
I’ll never forget what happened next. He looked up and searched my eyes. In that one, five-second glance, he was thinking, If only what you are saying is true. If I felt that today I could just abandon the self-improvement plan and receive grace as a free gift for an undeserving sinner like me, it would change everything.
This “sanctified suspicion” is what keeps so many people away from Christianity. If somebody tells us all we have to do is show up and get a free car, we know it can’t be true, so how can we expect a free ticket to heaven? This grace business just sounds too good, too easy. Successful people who have worked long and hard to obtain their place in society and their nice house and their big office and their imported cars simply don’t want to believe that God would give them a place in heaven. “Nothing gets handed to you on a silver platter,” they insist, and most of the time, they are right. But in this case, they are tragically wrong.
That’s why when you open your life up to Christ and you experience the grace explosion, you will be pelted with the shrapnel of relief. In the back of your mind, you knew you couldn’t earn your way into heaven, and now you realise you don’t have to. Instead of defining your relationship with God by your own efforts, you’ll watch in amazement as God draws near of His own accord. Hope will nourish your soul: Maybe with God’s help I can start my life over again. Maybe I can walk with a clean slate into a different kind of future.
Actually, there’s no ‘maybe” about it. It just comes down to grace, and it’s true. It’s also enduring.
(Note. While Bill used both sides of the napkin in his illustration consider forming a “Cross” on one side drawing the horizontal line through the “X”)