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Pastor Charles Stanley—who is an author and Bible teacher—tells this story from his seminary days. He writes: “One of my most memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating the concept of grace for his students. At the end of his evangelism course he would hand out the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well.

As we read through the exam, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough. The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. By the time we were turning to the last page, we were all ready to turn the exam in blank. It was impossible to pass.

On the last page, however, there was a note that read, ‘You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.’ Wow! We sat stunned. Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A? Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room. It took the rest of the afternoon for me to get over it. I had the urge to go back and check with him one more time to make sure he was serious. When I talked with him about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years as he had given the same exam. There were always students who did not follow instructions and began to take the exam without reading it all the way through. Some of them would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page. Their ignorance caused them unnecessary anxiety. Then there were the ones who would read the first two pages, become angry, turn in their paper blank, and storm out of the room. They never realized what was available. As a result, they lost out totally. One fellow, however, topped them all. He read the entire test, including the note at the end, but he decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, which was amazing considering the difficulty of the test. But he could have easily made an A.”


Stanley continues: “This story vividly illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Many are like the first group. They spend their lives trying to earn what they discover years later was freely offered to them the whole time. …

Many people respond like the second group. They look at God’s standard—moral and ethical perfection—and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? they tell themselves. I could never live up to all that stuff. They live the way they please, not expecting anything from God when they die. … What a shock it will be for them when they stand before God and understand for the first time what was available had they only asked! Then there is the guy who took the test anyway. I meet people like him all the time who are unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of forgiveness. Striking out to do it on their own, they strive to earn enough points with God to give them the right to look to their own goodness as a means of pardon and forgiveness. They constantly work at ‘evening the score’ with God through their good works. ‘Sure, I have my faults,’ they say. ‘But God does not expect anyone to be perfect.’ When it comes to forgiveness, there is no room for boasting in one’s own ability. … Unlike my professor’s test, in God’s economy anything less than 100 percent is failing.”