Monday, March 19, 2007

Cheap grace, costly grace

Cheap grace is grace without the cross, grace without the living incarnate Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the gospel. It costs people their lives. It cost the life of God's son, and nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How do we manage without the cross? The Christoids readily supply the answers. Religious enthusiasm and exciting music just as it is written, "They sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play" - before their own understanding of God, the calf which they had made. Sacrifices and hard work instead of listening to what God actually says, like the scribe and Levite passing by on the other side to keep themselves ritually pure, and like Martha thinking it was more important to run around and do things instead of listening to Jesus. And as Bohoeffer most immediately had in mind, being careful to fit in with our "fellow Christians," like the German Christians giving the Hitler salute in their churches and showing what loyal and patriotic Germans they were - the words of Jesus be damned - so that we have the assurance that we're pleasing God because our crowd all agrees.

This all involves lots of work, lots of ways to suck up and earn the praise of men. We can do all this and prove to ourselves that any inconvenience and pain involved shows that we love God - being very careful not to let what God says lead us into lonely and unpopular places.

But how do we know we actually love Jesus? Listen to the man himself: "If you love me you will keep my commandments."

That means that if we're not keeping his commandments we are not loving him. All the stuff that we do is just religious garbage. If you want to know how you feel about Jesus, and about his Father, just read Matthew, chapters 5-7. You love him if you're doing those things, and if you're not, you don't. Does anybody love Jesus, as he sees it? And is there any other way to see it?

The reason we hate Jesus is that we do understand - very well - that he calls us to follow him to the cross. What does that look like each day?

Turning his gaze on his disciples, he was saying:

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

Why? Because the rich in this world have their kingdom in this world. Our religious leaders don't even hide it, referring to "their churches" and "their ministries" - their own kingdoms. When they attain this, when they fill the pews with their own disciples and admirers, they feel successful and spiritual - being no longer poor and therefore alien to God's kingdom as they possess their own.

"Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh."

If we're not hungry now, when God is hungry, we're being fed by the world, and the world only feeds us when we give it what it wants. That always means we're not giving God what he wants, because he does not want us spreading our legs for the world in order to receive its consolations so that we don't need God's comfort. "Whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God" (James 4:4).

"Blessed are you when men hate you and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way their fathers used to do to the prophets."

Do you feel blessed in these circumstances, as Jesus says his disciples are, or is your relationship with God so non-existent that you can't imagine knowing that God is pleased with you unless the crowd of fellow "Christians" around you is assuring you of how wonderful you are - even though the Bible is extremely clear that such approval by all is experienced only by the false prophets and their disciples?

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also,; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold from him your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. And just as you want people to do to you, do to them in the same way."

Look long and carefully. This is what grace costs you. It's costly. We can't be his disciples and stay as we are except for what we don't like about ourselves. Nice, tame little Jesus giving us success in self-improvement has nothing to do with Jesus.

Then again, grace is truly free. All this works when God shows up, as he did for Jesus. And he will show up for us exactly when we show up for him, as Isaiah 1:16-8 and 1 John 1:5-10 do promise us.

John the apostle testified that these commandments are NOT burdensome - and they're not if we learn from Jesus how to do them. We do these things by coming to Jesus as he told us to do and being given his rest (Matthew 11:28-30). That rest will be ours as we learn to do the truth in which he found rest himself - and no other way.

Cheap grace is the "grace" we give ourselves and each other apart from God. Jesus describes it as follows:

"Woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to do to the false prophets."

John the apostle advised, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I, readers, have sought to be rich, have sought to be well-fed, have sought to laugh now, and have sought to have all men speak well of me. How about you?

In so doing we have sought multiple dimensions of eternal woe, beginning right now in this life. Can we afford grace this cheap?

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