Tell me if I am making a big deal out of a small point. It is possible that I am mincing words, here...
But is the heart of the Christian faith "grace?" Who would disagree with that?
Well, I'm not disagreeing with it, but the problem with stopping there is that grace is an abstract thing. Even your average died-in-the-wool doctrine-Pharisee would agree that "grace" is the heart of the Gospel. They can tell you all about grace and how awesome it is... as an awesome concept. They can rattle off Bible passages. They can defend it to the hilt.
I used to do that... sometimes I still do. It is an essential concept to understand, for by seeing grace you see everything else and learn to discern a great many errors. I used to be blood-thirsty to defend Biblical doctrines of grace. And I'm not here to drag that down. I'm also not going to say I have "arrived" now, though I do think I lacked some maturity back then. I'm also not trying to say that the doctrinally-obsessed only know of grace in an abstract way.
I guess what I am saying is that concepts and doctrines are too easy to talk about in this way, too easy to take and make into a golden calf of sorts. It is too easy to say, "Ahhh... yes... GRACE! I love GRACE!" and adore the idea of grace, even God's grace, from our hearts, and then stop there.
But the Gospel is not merely about grace. It is more than that. The heart of the Christian faith, the heart of the Gospel, is that grace became concrete, real, earthy. It is one step further than merely saying it is about "grace."
Is this a big deal? It can be. For example, I love the doctrine of justification. We could argue that the heart of the Gospel is the doctrine of justification -how a man, a sinner, is declared right in God's sight by the work of Jesus on his behalf, given to him by grace through faith. I love that truth. I love it. But, as John Piper pointed out in his book, "God is the Gospel," justification is not an end in itself. If you stop there, it is just a concept. Justification gives you God. The whole point of the Gospel is the bring you to God. Jesus did not die so that an abstract declaration could be made in the courtoom of God. Jesus died so that you, a sinner, could be made right with God and then have God for your God and Father, your Keeper, your Husband, your Friend, your Master, your Lover.
Likewise, grace is not an end in itself. As it says in the first chapter of John's gospel account, grace and truth were made manfiest. The heart of the Gospel is that God meets us here, right down here on earth, and destroyed the barriers between us right here, on earth. God's grace had feet and hands and a smile and a brow for thorns and a side for a spear.
Anything that makes me go "Awwwww..." with sentimental gush or think proudly and excitedly of great men with fluffy wigs and funny hats is, I think, a distraction. I have less of a hard time getting distracted when I think of the concrete manifestation of God's grace rather than grace as a concept. Besides, God seems to have gone through a lot of trouble, a lot of working in and through human history, to meet us in the way He did, so it seems only fitting that we should think about the things He has done for us in tangible rather than abstract terms, No?