Do You Understand Grace? A One-Question Test

Bob Bevington
Written By:
Do You Understand Grace? A One-Question Test | September 27th, 2012

Do You Understand Grace? A One-Question Test

Jeffrey Dahmer

Question: What do Lebron James, serial killer Jeffery Dahmer, and yours truly all have in common?

(No, that’s not the One-Question Test—it comes at the end).

Answer: All three of us used to live in Bath, Ohio. In fact, Lebron still owns a mansion there, I think.

Speaking of Dahmer, the other day I was told he made a Death Row confession of faith prior to having his skull bashed in by a fellow inmate in 1994. It sparked a storm of controversy about whether Dahmer, and people like him, could possibly show up in heaven.

I tried to imagine Jeffrey Dahmer in heaven. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even drove to Dahmer’s old neighborhood and parked my car on the street outside his house–the very place where he gathered his prized roadkill collection as an adolescent. As I sat there I realized something. My understanding of grace was being put to the test.

Before I knew it I was looking up the story of the Thief on the Cross.

The Thief was another very bad guy who admittedly lived a very bad life. As the moment of his death drew near he must have seen something glorious in the blood-soaked, dying Savior on the cross next to him. So he makes a request:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

In spite of His extreme suffering, the Son of Man knew this man inside and out. So His reply to the thief is shocking:

 Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

A couple of hours later the Thief’s legs were shattered with a club and he died on his cross before he could do one good thing. He was not baptized. He did not participate in any of the sacraments. And he didn’t serve a single meal in a soup kitchen.

Here’s a guy who never came close to “looking and talking and thinking and acting” like Jesus. And yet the Thief on the Cross becomes the very first person Jesus ushers into Paradise! If Jesus is for real then that really happened. Good news for the Thief and maybe Jeffery Dahmer.

But wait a minute. How can this be fair? That’s the test question.

Feel free to share your answer in the comment box below. Tomorrow I’ll venture an answer, too.


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  • Matthew

    Some days I think grace is hard to comprehend, but then I read something like and think, “No, grace is REALLY hard to comprehend.” Conversations like this always lead me back to humility and gratitude.

    • Bob Bevington

      That’s it! Exactly. Humility and gratitude are the only sane ways to respond to grace. Abusing it’s no good. Nor is diminishing it. I’d add one more: worship. “To the PRAISE of the glory of the GRACE of God (Ephesians 1:6).


    It’s interesting to me, Bob, that ‘fair’ and ‘just’ seem to have two different meanings in the Bible. I can’t think of a time when Jesus describes His Father as fair. Instead, my understanding is that His Father is perfectly merciful and perfectly just in His interactions with us, through Christ, and the sum of that unimaginable perfection is grace. He judges the heart, that which is unseen to us, and we judge behavior, that which we can see. Judging behavior is different than condemning a person’s being. Only God can judge the being and be fair.
    “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs…” (that’s the story of my younger Christian walk), (and now my understanding is this) “…salvation comes from the Lord.” Which only occurs after we call on the Lord in our distress, and repent. The wisdom of Jonah.
    And the wisdom of the thief on the cross.

  • MCM

    I am very impressed by all comments and a great subject.
    In the parable of the workers, some came early and some came late but all got the same reward, I think Jesus indicated that grace not fairness is his measure. The fairness doctrine seem part old law and part secular to me.
    If God were fair (just), would he give a knucklehead like me eternal life? No way.
    Yet if we are all made in his likeness and he is God of perfect love the answer is yes, we all have a shot at eternal life.
    Fairness/justice is a secular/human concept in my view and I can never quite figure out where justice ends and revenge begins. The more worthy/Godly concepts to me are forgiveness and mercy which seem to be what Jesus taught.

    • Bob Bevington

      Marty- Thanks for your comments! You always have good insights. What did you think of my “answer” today and the picture?

      Can’t wait till the reunion. It will be great to see you and all The Men of Park Ten!

  • Jason

    Ah – one of
    those questions that many Christians struggle with, and many non-Christians use
    to tell us we are simply silly, wrong-headed, or evil. For me, there are
    2 parts to this: (a) that we need His grace for our spiritual transgressions
    (from which all earthly ones flow), and (b) that only He knows one’s heart.
    In both cases, the “proof” we require does not exist in the physical
    realm—hence we cannot “see it” to then “know it.” We are required to take (a) on
    faith alone, which then requires (b) of us–to accept an
    individual’s profession faith at face value. Sometimes I find it humorous
    that we broken individuals, separated from God (as we have chosen, choose, and
    will continue to choose to usurp His authority in our lives), think we can
    force-rank transgressions based on the sin-filled world around us and own
    flawed knowledge. It’s like claiming one criminal is better than another
    because the one obeyed the speed limit when he left the scene of the crime.

    Compared to
    our willful choice to try to separate our souls from our creator for all
    eternity, the rest of the things we do to one another is trifling. Yes,
    that is hard to swallow, however, yes, that is the magnitude of the break.
    So, is it “fair” – well, not in a world worried about which of
    our minor transgressions is worse than the other whilst we ignore the
    overarching sin of our own separation.
    Let us recall that our sins are great that the only way to paid for them,
    the only way to preserve God’s justice while also demonstrating His love for us,
    the only way to purify us so that we would be an acceptable bride for His son
    Christ, the only way that our presentation to Him could possibly befit His
    glory, was to impute the full burden of sin for all the elect, for all time,
    onto the eternal and perfect Christ (the son of God and son of Man), to pay the
    debt in full, liberate us from the
    confines of our own sin, and become new creations worthy of the debt He paid.
    That is the only way to bridge the gap we created to His righteousness
    with our sin. Somehow, with all of that
    having already happened, we are want to cast our flaw-filled judgment on the
    transgressions of others.

    I know
    when I starting thinking this way, I remind myself of the parable of the unmerciful
    servant, then I remind myself that my sin is so abominable to God that it
    requires death to satisfy it, and that usually snaps me out of thinking that
    somehow I can sit in judgment of these things.
    Oh that Christ would be in us, that we would be filled with hope and
    glory, and put such trivia away!

    • Bob Bevington

      Well said brother. Thanks!

  • Michael Hammonds

    The question of fairness is irrelevant. We need to consider what age we live in, either in the age of grace or the age of justice.

    This is the age of grace – where good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people – where sinner and saint can have good luck, or bad luck. Good luck for the thief on the cross. Bad luck for your wonderful Christian neighbor down the street with terminal cancer. There is no real justice yet.
    Grace – the undeserved gift is offered to all whether good or bad, young or old, innocent or guilty.

    Fairness comes into play later in the age of justice, when the book of life is opened and all humanity stands in judgement and accounts for their deeds. Or, if saving grace was accepted, the righteousness of Christ stands in for us when we stand before Almighty God and Christ’s blood washes away our sin.

    • Bob Bevington

      Thanks for putting this question into eternal perspective. The word YET stands out to me in your answer. Thanks Mike!

  • Jeff A.

    Ephasians 2:1-10 spells out the amazing grace God has granted us and clearly states that we were all dead in our sins at one point. Our human minds creates a rating scale for sin, which in turn gives us the sense to judge what is “fair”. After all, we’ve all been punished or disciplined as children, and the severity of the punishment was often directly proportionate to the severity of what we did wrong, right? Our justice system is the same. However, the Bible states that sin is sin, and all have fallen short of the glory of God. What we do, good or bad, does not earn us grace, whether its before we call Christ Lord and Savior or after. The Bible is very clear in that, once we accepts God’s grace, we’re in. There is no timeline set on that, no contingency, no exceptions. That’s how much God loves us, and Christ’s death on a cross is able to forgive little white lies, to multiple murders, and everything in between. For us to ask is that fair?, is close to putting a limit on Christ’s death on the cross and the love he has for us all. Yet God’s love and grace is limitless and does not grow or diminish from one person to another. Look at Matthew chapter 20, The parable of the workers in the vineyard. Whether we accept Christ on our death bed or in our youth, our acceptance into Heaven does not change. In that parable, the Landowner even answers the workers, who were grumbling because they worked all day but still were paid the same wages as those who worked an hour, stating, “I am not being unfair to you, friend.” Grace is God’s to give and do with as he pleases. That goes for life long God loving Christians, or the life long sinner turned God loving Christian in his last minutes.

    • Bob Bevington

      Matthew 20:1-16 is another parable that tests our understanding of grace. The words of the landowner are equally astonishing:

      Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

      • MCM


  • Robbie Andrassy

    Through scrolling these comments a question comes up in many of our minds. It is a question that Paul addressed, for he knew this was a struggle of ours.

    -See Romans 9-
    Comment: I LOVE KNOWING that the man next to Jesus went to Heaven! It makes me SO HAPPY! I love just sitting on what Bob said, “A couple of hours later the Thief’s legs were shattered with a club and he died on his cross before he could do one good thing.” (saved by grace, not by works) In my opinion, It is a splendorous glorification of the grace of God. Honestly, It just makes me laugh on the inside with joy. Indeed, Christ died for the ungodly, and God will be faithful in upholding His glory, namely, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom. 9:14) This, in my opinion, will help us understand how Salvation works and God’s complete freedom in His gift of Salvation.

    *The story of the thief on the cross inspires me to preach the gospel to all! There is no conditions!! It is by grace one is saved!! This should give us an urgency to preach the gospel!!*

    • Bob Bevington

      I love your passion Robbie! Thanks for your reply

  • Duncan Jaenicke

    The whole question of what’s “fair” is popular now that the Marxist in the White House wants another four years to destroy America. They ask, in their ads, both explicitly and implicitly, “Is it fair that X person earns more money than you?” (For X, insert Romney or your boss or neighbor, anyone of whom you can feel jealous.) Obama himself is a multi-millionaire too, but they conveniently forget that fact, and besides, that’s not my point here.

    The key to understanding the ‘fair’ question is this: the underlying assumption of the question puts man in the judgment seat. That is, as Judge of All Things. As God.

    That’s why the question is a fool’s errand to answer (Bob, I’m not attacking your use of this question here, rather, I’m attacking others’ use of it, and the general concept of man deciding what’s ‘fair.’) The difficult-to-swallow, yet vibrant truth at work here is: We are NOT God; we don’t set the rules, and we do NOT get to judge what’s “fair” in this world.

    The whole concept of ‘fairness’ is a notion we humans created long ago, when democracy was founded in ancient Greece. And nowadays, the concept of ‘fair’ is useful when some humans choose to promote reheated Marxism, as the Obamaites are doing now. The core idea of the Communist Manifesto, the document that Karl Marx and Frederich Engels wrote in 1848, is that there are two types of people in this world: workers (good) and capitalists (evil). That the way to solve the world’s problems is to kill off the evil capitalists (or steal their wealth, as Obama wants to do). That whole fairness idea is thus cast in sharp relief by Marxists. Throw in a little racial resentment / hatred and you have the powerful toxic KoolAid that Obama got elected on–and wants to use to get reelected. God forbid.

    So, to get back to the excellent point you raise, Bob, since WE ARE NOT GOD, the question of whom He forgives–and when (Jeffrey Dahmer in Fla prison w/ Dr. Dobson as I recall) is moot. Like the Bible counsels us, the only sane response to this trick question is to “Be still and know that I am God.” Bottom line? GOD decides who is saved and who is not, not me. Thank God–that’s the only way I would have gotten in to grace and eternal life that is the gift HE chooses to give.

    • Bob Bevington

      Duncan- I take it you’re not a big fan of our current President. . .

      Putting the election aside for the moment, I agree Psalm 46:10 helps us begin to answer the question about grace.

  • Kevin Lanning

    Why is it fair for someone like me to even be granted grace and righteousness? I am a sinner just as much as Mr Dahmer and yet God chose to bestow upon me His mercy rather than a eternal separation from Him. He is just and the Justifier.

    • Bob Bevington

      Reminds me that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus equated anger to murder and lust to adultery. . .

  • mikejody

    Bob, it’s only fair that an unrighteous, unholy, horrible sinner like Jeffrey Dahmer goes to heaven if the holy, righteous, undefiled, perfect One, Jesus, died and went to hell and rose again in his place. “at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” God can be just, and the Justifier of sinners because Christ took our punishment, suffered in our place, paid the price for our sins. And God does not demand payment twice, once at the hand of His Son, and then again from us. I praise Him for the grace of the cross.

    • Bob Bevington

      Amen. A really clear Biblically-supportable answer. Thanks, Mike!

  • Jim B.

    It’s not. MY sin against an infinite God demands infinite punishment, but that’s not going to happen to me because Jesus endured the cross for me and that wasn’t fair either. He didn’t deserve my punishment, but he took it anyway. I thank God that it’s not fair.

    • Bob Bevington

      Grace = “God’s blessings in Christ toward those who deserve His curse.”

  • TParker3neo

    I am sure my former wife asks how it is fair that Jesus has now saved me. It certainly was not because of my merit or anything I may have done. Thankfully, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and our ways are not His ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. God alone decides what He will do.

    • Bob Bevington

      My former wife, Rita, thought that way, too. But thankfully there’s been deep reconciliation and healing–and apart from the cross none of it would have been possible.

  • db

    Well grace is a God virtue, when some human is trying to struggle with grace it is
    and I mean struggle, it is time for them to let go and let God deal with it,,, and let it be,
    also the person criminal , needs to know you do the crime- you do the punishment….

  • Jen M

    Bob, I have been recently listening to this song over and over by Steven Curtis Chapman from the perspective of the thief. It brings me to tears because it is me. Sin is sin. I’m up to my eyeballs in it daily. God’s plan of redemption is perfect, who am I to ask who he chooses and doesn’t.. Here’s the link to the song…

    • Bob Bevington

      Thanks, Jen. Awesome song!

  • Herman Kok

    I think we should not confuse ‘fair’ with ‘just’. Nowhere in scripture does it say God is fair. It often says He is just. Justice mean we have to be punished for our sins. The only punishment is death. Christ paid that price for us all. If you accept it, you don’t pay it anymore. Justice is satisfied. Whether you accept it as a child, or seconds before your death, Christ paid for every sin – those you have committed and those you are still going to commit (because Christians still sin – when Paul called himself the greatest of all sinners he wasn’t referring to his life before Christ). That’s justice. We sinned. Christ died.

    The world is more concerned with fairness than justice. Grace is grossly unfair (also consider the parable of the workers in the vineyard – Matt 20). That is why it is foolishness to those who are not saved (1 Cor 1:18). That is why our beliefs are so unacceptable to the world.

    So, to answer your question. This isn’t fair. It’s extremely unfair. Fair would be for us all to suffer because none of us is good. We must be thankful that God is not interested in fair, but that He offers his grace equally to us all.

  • Military mom from Va

    this is a tough one but how do we know there is not some kind of genetic defect or brain malfunction that makes these sociopaths..we dont have all the answers.Jesus said my grace is sufficient..

    • Bob Bevington

      Well, I certainly have to agree: we don’t have all the answers, but the Triune God does.

  • Paula Kechisen Collins

    You know what Bob, it is the one question that has always bothered me as well. Sometimes I feel as if those convicted of horrendous crimes get a “Get out of hell free” card if they make a profession of faith in their final minutes. But then again, we only know what we are told, God knows everyone’s heart, inside and out: the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I think that most people struggle with that issue. But then I think about the fact that my sins, that I find not nearly as bad as Dahmer’s would have nailed Jesus to the cross just the same. To God, “A sin is a sin is a sin.”

    • Bob Bevington

      Good thoughts. Thanks for contributing to the conversation Paula.

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