‘TIS A TIME OF SHAKING AND BURNING ALRIGHT…

I can’t tell you how much in more recent years I have come to appreciate the Letter to the Hebrews! The initial recipients were a group of 1st century Jewish believers in danger of giving up under the pressures of intimidation by zealots and persecution by civic authorities. The author (Apollos? Barnabas?) urges them to keep their faith firmly anchored to the moorings of truth and to maintain their steady confidence in Christ as their High Priest. A not unfamiliar scenario today when thinking of the Church worldwide [as to persecution, google the recent horrendous execution of house church leaders in N. Korea].

Hebrews 12:14-29 warns the Church against refusing God. The passage depicts God as a God of SHAKING and BURNING, which hold both warning and encouragement for God’s new covenant people (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8).

Then (1st century AD) and now (21st century) the Bible reveals God as one who ‘SHAKES.’ Yes, God literally shook the earth and his people at Mount Sinai with the revelation of his law, and it was a quite terrifying experience (v. 18-21). For 1st century believers and contemporary believers it’s radically different (v. 22ff):  ‘You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible (or heavenly) Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s – a homicide that cried out for vengeance – became a proclamation of grace’(MSG).

This ‘shaking’ should have a two-fold effect:

  1. God’s people can never afford to ignore the ‘shakings’ of his heavenly grace in Christ (think of the impact when the gospel first broke on the 1st century world):  v. 25, ‘Don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on his heavenly warnings?’ 
  2. God’s ‘kingdom shakings’ have a purpose – a thorough ‘house cleaning’ of the Church for the purpose of true worship:   v. 26ff,  “His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time – he’s told us quite plainly – he’ll also rock the heavens:  ‘One last shaking’ means a thorough house-cleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakeable essentials stand clear and uncluttered. Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakeable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God.”

Then (1st cent.) and now (21st cent.) we see God as one who ‘BURNS’:  v. 29, ‘For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!’

God as ‘burning’ should have a two-fold effect:

  1. The ‘fire’ of God’s cleansing has always been necessary for those ‘in Christ’ who serve his kingdom purpose. Think of the prophet Isaiah in Is. 6. Think of John the Baptiser’s words in Mt. 3:11ff, “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life… The main character in this drama – compared to him I’m a mere stagehand – will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit with you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of our lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” The Master himself, in his summons to his servants to be ready at all times, declares ‘I’ve come to start a fire on this earth – how I wish it were blazing right now!’ I’ve come to change everything, turn everything right side up – how I long for it to be finished…’ (Lk. 12:49ff).
  2. The fires of God’s chastisement (discipline, training, ‘processing’) have always been necessary for those ‘in Christ’ who serve his kingdom purpose. In the immediate context we have Heb. 12:1-13, ‘God Disciplines His Sons’ for ‘a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’ (NIV). The apostle Peter wrote to suffering Christians, ‘Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine’ (1 Pet. 1:7). The exalted Christ counsels the luke-warm, rich and self-made Laodicean Church to ‘Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire. Then you’ll be rich…’ (Rev. 3:18/MSG).

Would anyone deny that the contemporary Church, around the globe, is going through a possibly unprecedented time of ‘shaking and burning?’ Here are some personal interpretations, for which I think there is considerable support as I listen to the Church in other parts of the world:

  • The denominational, institutional, traditional Church is being shaken to its very foundations, ‘spring cleaned’ all around the world:  by persecution as in China, Iran, etc;  by materialism and invididualism (‘it’s all about me’) in the West [sadly now also in Africa, as a result of shallow ‘prosperity gospels’ exported to the largely untaught, poor and the hungry. As an African, that false gospel insults and infuriates me];  by the myth that if God is going to work in his world he must do so through the hierarchical, denominational, traditional, institutional church, etc [I have news for those who believe the latter:  God’s answer to our world is ‘blowing in the wind,’ and wind can’t be contained in a box. If needs be, the Spirit will by-pass traditional structures every time in order to bring Christ’s kingdom on earth].
  • Even ‘Simple Church’ and/or ‘Organic Church’ is being shaken:  by humanistic philosophies, poor theology (poor pastor-teachers, cf Eph. 4:11ff), exclusivism, subtle universalism, super-spirituality, legalism, an obsession with ‘returning to our Hebrew roots,’ etc. [I as a believer don’t for one moment denigrate my Jewish roots. I sweated too much in my OT Introduction, OT Theology and Classical Hebrew classes. I also identify with Frank Viola when he points out that believers’ roots lie in eternity before the foundation of the world, in the One greater than Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek and not of Aaron]. Praise God that wherever these failures have abounded, God’s grace has much more abounded! Almost everywhere I go these days I bump into shaken and burned believers finding new hope in Christ-exalting ecclesiae in the most unlikely places and forms.

‘How do we then live’ as Church in such times of shaking and burning?

  • By repenting from our ego-kingdoms and thankfully believing, embracing, living and gossiping (24/7) the ‘full gospel’ of King Jesus. (cf my previous blogs on the meaning of the ‘gospel’)
  • By living out of Christ’s sheer grace, indwelt by his Spirit, not out of religious duty (the law) but intimate relationship with the King.
  • By living patiently and confidently before Christ in a shaking world, with all its political instability, social pressures, economic hazards, spiritual apostasy, physical danger and moral decay (cf. Heb. 13:5-8).
  • By living in radical obedience to the heavenly vision. Will we? Karl Barth said that when we fold our hands in prayer we start a revolt against the world order. Patrick was a runaway slave living in England when he saw a vision one day, ‘I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The voice of the Irish.” As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea… and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”‘ Patrick obeyed and went back to Ireland (where he had been a slave) and in response to Patrick’s obedient ‘walking among them,’ a supernatural Jesus movement broke out that transformed multitudes in Ireland from paganism into dynamic Christ followers. In the words of Patrick,

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

[for the story of St. Patrick I am indebted to Steve Simms, http://stevesimms.wordpress.com%5D

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

‘CHEAP GRACE’ [PART 3]

This morning quite early (I am not a morning person) I switched on the radio and while surfacing, heard Percy Sledge sing the hit-song of 1969 (now those were the days), 

What am I living for

If not for you,

(repeat 1st two lines)

Ohh, nobody else

Nobody else will do!

I thought of my lovely wife, and then I thought of Jesus…

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s get to PART 3 of ‘CHEAP GRACE’…

If we imagine that the road of ‘costly grace’ is just too hard and demanding, perhaps it’s time we turn our thoughts to the immensity of God’s grace in Jesus! You see, ‘costly grace discipleship’ is always grounded in ‘free grace.’ 

When the apostle Paul writes to his young associate Titus in Crete concerning leadership, he once more cuts cross-country to Christ and his work of saving grace. Tit. 3:4ff/NLT (having described life ‘BC,’ he turns to life ‘AD’), “But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know we will inherit eternal life. These things I have told you are all true. I want you to insist on them so that everyone who trusts in me will be careful to do good deeds all the time. These things are good and beneficial for everyone.” 

Furthermore, let’s think ‘new covenant’ rather than ‘old covenant’ when faced with the cost of discipleship. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied during one of the most troublesome times in Hebrew history, the decades leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Then in ch. 31 he looks beyond the Babylonian exile to a time of restoration and hope for God’s ‘new people,’ operating under a ‘new covenant’ unlike the old one (Jer. 31:31). God promises his faithful that, according to this new covenant, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their family, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will already know me,’ says the LORD. ‘And I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins.” (Jer. 31:33ff/ NLT). Did not Jesus, when he was about to depart and promised his followers another Comforter viz. the Holy Spirit, display this ‘new covenant’ spirit when he said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments”? (Jn. 14:15/NASB). We read our Bibles so ‘religiously’ that we see the imperative ‘keep my commandments’ without recognising the promise will keep my commandments!’ This is surely what Frank Viola calls the ‘missing ingredient’ in much modern discipleship, viz. the glorious truth of the indwelling Christ within us both individually and corporately! Paul wrote in similar vein in Phil. 2:12-13/NLT, “And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving grace in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”  Sadly, so much preaching and teaching today from evangelical platforms unwittingly proclaims the subliminal message ‘This is what you must do – just try harder!’ It’s heretical, depressing and soul-destroying. [on the matter of the new covenant, do yourself a favour and try and read Jon Zens’ quite brilliant ‘This Is My Beloved Son, Hear Him’:  The Foundation of New Covenant Ethics and Ecclesiology. It was a huge help to me a while ago].

What about some historical examples of ‘costly discipleship?’

  • My mind goes back to one of my favourite manifestations of NT faith and community, viz. the 18th century Moravians of Herrnhut, under the leadership of Count Zinzendorff. Somehow they turned a very diverse people into a unified community (Unitas Fratrum) of ecclesiolai, ‘little churches’ within the broader Church fold. Their sense of community in Christ spilled over into incredible influence in terms of care for the poor, education and mission to the far corners of the earth, from Greenland in the north to my own country in the south [if ever in the Western Cape, do visit the Moravian Mission in Genadendal, ‘Grace Vale’]. Robert Banks said of them, ‘Proportionally, the missionary dimension of Moravian life exceeded that of any Christian group from the first century. Never has a single expression of the church had so many of its members involved in mission, travelled to so many places, reached out to so many different peoples, or influenced so many others to follow its example.’ You may recall it was the Moravian Peter Bohler who led John Wesley into his ‘heart-warming experience’ of salvation in Christ, and quite possibly influenced him to set up his famous ‘class meetings’ in homes across the length and breadth of 18th century England. Now what was the Moravians’ secret? You can detect it still today in the seal of the Moravian Church which features the Agnus Dei, the ‘Lamb of God’ carrying the flag of victory and surrounded by the Latin inscription Vicit Agnus Noster eum sequamur, ‘Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him.’ Their biblical foundation was Is. 53 and their motto ‘May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of His suffering.’ These were the words a Moravian missionary yelled out across the waters to his family and friends as his ship sailed away to some foreign culture.
  • What about Bonhoeffer himself? In prison and concentration camps, he inspired one and all with his courage, unselfishness and goodness. He so inspired his guards that they got to respect and even love him, smuggling out his papers and poems written in prison, and apologizing for having to lock his door after exercise in the courtyard. He got permission in the prison to visit the sick and comfort the anxious. During the very heavy bombings of Berlin, when the explosions were accompanied by the howling of his fellows and the beating of their fists against the locked doors of their cells, we are told that Bonhoeffer stood like a giant before men. To the end, his discipleship was marked by boundless mercy and joy! And yet, lest we be totally disheartened at our own lack of commitment, he was always painfully aware of his own frailty, humanity and uncertainty:  ‘Who am I?’ They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!’

What about you and me in this challenge to ‘costly discipleship’?

I’m sure we should be realistic about our own frailties and failures, and yet at the same time of God’s great love for us. I’ve always loved the realism of Brennan Manning (who died almost a year ago now) and yet also his sense of God’s grace [Manning was a renegade Franciscan priest who battled with alcoholism for most of his life, and yet through his writings and talks enriched the lives of so many across the ecclesiastical board]. He loved to point people to ‘the God too good to be true, my Abba.’ He first encountered the message of grace as ‘a life-shattering gift in the mid-1950’s – out of this grew his personal message, unchanged for more than fifty years: ‘God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.’  And not only should we be sure of God’s love for us, but also of his indwelling Son who enables us to ‘be’ and live the impossible. A glance at Eph. 1:15-23 should suffice – read it tonight perhaps, last thing at your leisure, and let your spirit soar!

What goes for us as individual believers, goes for the corporate body of Christ. What a challenge to live this grace out corporately – I personally believe small faith communities in the neighbourhood or small marketplace discipleship gatherings are best suited for this task. The point is, it’s not what we say, it’s how we live that matters most, as the Letter of James reminds us. I, and I believe many believers around the world are convinced that it is not the Word of Jesus himself that puts people off, but the superstructure of human, institutional, and doctrinal elements in our preaching and teaching and gatherings.  

And now a prayer…

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My riches gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

 

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the cross of Christ my God:

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood.

 

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all!

 

(Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)

 

 

 

‘CHEAP GRACE’ [PART 2]

Thanks for your comments on Part 1. In one of those comments a fellow-blogger directed me to the relevance of the Letter of Jude to our time. The brother of Jesus writes about opposition to the Gospel from without and within, warning of a deadly virus developing within the ‘ekklesiae’:  some insiders were trying to convince Jude’s readers that being ‘saved by grace’ gave them licence to sin, since their sins (post-forgiveness) would no longer be held against them (Jude 3-4). Note v.4, “Their design is to replace the sheer grace of God with sheer licence – which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master” (MSG). [note, we don’t have to be habitual drunks and multiple adulterers to be living licentiously – our pews are full of people who perhaps mean well but don’t intentionally live out the Gospel of King Jesus in their minds, hearts, attitudes and daily life. In short, they abuse their precious, new-found freedom in Christ]

Now to some comments on ‘costly grace’:

  • Grace is free, but not cheap. It was costly for God, it cost him the life of his Son:  we are ‘bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20) viz. Christ’s ‘precious blood’ (1 Pet. 2:18-19). What has cost God so much, cannot be allowed to become cheap to us. Above all it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but gave him up for us all (D. Bonhoeffer).
  • Grace is costly for the disciple because it compels us to ‘submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him.’ It is grace precisely because Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:30/NIV). 
  • Grace is costly for the Church. Bonhoeffer in 1937 commented on how ‘cheap grace’ without discipleship had all but destroyed the State Church in Germany. In fact he claimed the whole German nation had become Christian and Lutheran, but at the cost of true discipleship [can this not be said of many nations and the Church today, particularly in the West?]: “The upshot of it all is that my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven. I need no longer try to follow Christ, for cheap grace, the bitterest foe of discipleship, which true discipleship must loathe and detest, has freed me from that…”  Bonhoeffer believed “the only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and the call is inseparable from the grace.”  Phew!!
  • Grace is costly because it means living my discipleship not apart from the world or in my church building but in the world. Martin Luther, the monk, had to exchange the cloister for the market place. “The Christian is now not a ‘homo religiosus,’ but simply a man as Jesus (in distinction from John the Baptist) was a man… (Bonhoeffer). Do you and I in our being and behaviour live out our discipleship in the home and in the market-place? Do we personally get our hands dirty in serving the needs of the poor? [it’s just too easy to throw money at the poor:  I know many South African Christians who give generously to the poor but who have never visited and been involved in a squatter camp (barrio/favela/slum) where the forgotten of society try and eke out a daily existence]

How do we move from ‘cheap grace’ to ‘costly grace’?

  • We have already (see Part 1) suggested some answers when considering the reasons for the Church’s spiritual demise: e.g. preaching/teaching/living a grace from above that washes and transforms (Jn. 3; 1 Jn. 1);  preaching/teaching/living a grace that willingly bows to the lordship of Christ, which belongs to the essence of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15).  
  • Following up on the last sentence, grace calls us to preach and teach the fulness of the Gospel as depicted in the Gospels as well as in the Epistles, in all its splendour and glory. Too often we have succumbed to a truncated ‘Gospel’ of Christ’s Saviourhood to the detriment of his glorious Kingship – hence the sad and shallow condition of much that goes today ‘in the name of the Church’ [just examine the splashy and pricey promotions in the media of so many churches in the chase to stay ahead of the pack:  in my own city, it’s quite pathetic]. 
  • Grace calls us to preach/teach/live in new and fresh ways the bigness of Christ. Read and re-read again those hymns to the greatness and pre-eminence of Christ:  Eph. 1:3-14;  Phil. 2:5-11;  Col. 1:15-20;  Heb. 1;  etc. T. Austin Sparks in his ‘The Stewardship of the Mystery’ urged us to teach new converts, from the very beginning, the greatness of Christ and God’s purpose in him:  ‘A little Christ and a little Christianity will produce little Christians.’ Andrew Murray reminded us to consider ‘the throne of Christ’ described in Mt. 25:31ff, following on the Parables of the Talents and the Sheep and the Goats. Len Sweet and Frank Viola in their Jesus Manifesto give sage wisdom, “The need today is for the scales to fall from our eyes so that we may see the infinite greatness of our Lord. That requires the existence of those who can present Him with astounding power and reality. This, of course, necessitates that those who have been smitten by Christ themselves impart that same sterling vision of Him to others…”  
  • Grace calls us to once more, in the face of a subtle new universalism, take the Great Commission (Mt. 28:16-20) seriously. The Great Commission is not ‘a Great Suggestion’ [Andrew Murray in his ‘The School of Obedience’ reminds us that the only thing that will suffice for the believer when it comes to the Great Commission is ‘an obedience unto death’]. It concerns me that many who espouse free grace, liberty in Christ and organic church (quite rightly!) make little or no apparent, Spirit-dependant attempt to spread the splendid Good News of Jesus to all the ethne of the earth. And no, I am not trying to lay the ‘law’ or a ‘guilt-trip’ on you… and no, I don’t expect everyone to leave tomorrow for Outer Mongolia! One wonders what would have happened if William Carey (1761-1834) (missionary to India, Bible translator extraordinaire, ‘Father of Modern Missions’) had heeded the counsel of his Calvinistic Baptist Fraternal whose members suggested to him that when God decided to convert the heathen He would do so without any help from the Fraternal or Carey himself!

If we object that the cost is too high and the price too much, we surely have to re-visit God’s sheer grace in Christ. We’ll do this in ‘Part 3’ of this post.

Thanks for travelling with me so far, no matter how stony the road has been!

‘CHEAP GRACE’ [PART 1]

Some years ago a certain, very dysfunctional couple made a ‘profession of faith’ while undergoing marriage counselling with a brother in the Lord. They seemed sincere and were recommended to our house church for nurture, because of geographics. We welcomed them unconditionally, and I can honestly say that lots of acceptance and love was shown to them by our group. We expressed practical help over a good few years in terms of food parcels, rental, counsel, etc. The children particularly bonded with my wife and myself in a special way, and it was a joy ministering to them. Then, from time to time, some of the children would confide in my wife as to neglect at home – parents working and drinking at a pub until the wee hours of the morning, quarrelling, possible infidelity, children not coping at school, etc. We felt the need to lovingly challenge the parents about these issues, feeling that out of years of relationship and trust we could do this for the common good. Along the way the parents had been attending a mid-week group which espoused a ‘hyper-grace gospel’ (i.e. a gospel of grace, but which doesn’t transform or lead to responsible living). At our challenge they took offence, wrote me a letter to the effect that they were under grace and not under law (which I agree with 110%) and therefore did not feel the need for a change of lifestyle. They left our group and continued with their libertine lifestyle. Sadly I buried the husband a few weeks ago and the family continues in its dysfunctionality. They, imho, had fallen prey to a ‘gospel of cheap grace,’ which I will define more closely in a moment.

This ‘gospel of cheap grace’ increasingly preached today is probably in reaction to the equally false ‘gospel of legalism’ preached by many institutional churches for so many years. I personally suffered under the tyranny of legalism for most of the early years of my Christian life. I am sure I was also guilty of preaching it at times during my traditional church days. Then some years ago I encountered Christ’s grace in a powerful, liberating new way, and everything changed. If you read my blogs you will notice that I espouse the ‘gospel of grace’ revealed supremely in Jesus and taught in the Gospels and the Epistles fully. The Letter to the Galatians, for example, is the joy of my life! Having said that, my heart often breaks when I see the effects of cheap grace, a new libertinism and universalism (‘all people are saved – they just don’t know it’), and so on. These things are hardly building a robust Church. Check out the best-sellers in your local ‘Christian Bookshop,’ the DVD’s, Facebook banter between the ‘twenties ‘n thirties’ and even older, etc. Hence my feeling constrained to put ‘a few pieces of bread on the table’ for my fellow-pilgrims to sample, praying that a crumb may help here and there, and by God’s grace contribute just a little to a purer and healthier Bride for the coming days/Day.

Seventy seven years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) (one of my favourite theologians and spiritual heroes) wrote a book called ‘The Cost of Discipleship,’ an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. It gives some inkling of that vision of Jesus and his Church for which Bonhoeffer was ready to suffer torture and death (he was executed by special order of Himmler in Flossenburg Prison just a few days before it was liberated by the Allies).

Bonhoeffer began the first chapter with this statement (from his Lutheran perspective), ‘Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.’ What does he mean by ‘cheap grace?’ “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using it and spending it are infinite.”

He continues, Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ‘ipso facto’ a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.”

Bonhoeffer is not the only prophet who speaks to the 21st century Church, often so diseased with ‘cheap grace,’ easy-believism, egoism, materialism, self-help gurus, self-therapy and so on.

  • Check out Frank Viola’s recent blog on ‘The Message Most Needed, But the One Few Want to Hear.’ In it he essentially expounds Bonhoeffer’s dictum, ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’
  • Check out Scot McKnight’s book, ‘The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited,’ highlighting the crying need for a new understanding of the Gospel which heralds Christ’s Kingdom and Kingship in place of the oh-so-popular ‘four simple steps to eternal salvation.’ And so we could go on.

May I suggest a few possible contributing factors to today’s popular ‘cheap grace’ gospel?

  • Because the Church is in so many places biblically shallow or even illiterate, we are unable to distinguish between true gospel and false gospel. The true gospel Jesus, Peter and Paul bought into is one that summonses one and all to believe, repent and be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. All this is prompted and attended by the gracious gift of God’s Spirit (Scot McKnight, ‘The King Jesus Gospel’). When last did you hear preaching/teaching consistently calling for repentance (not only as ‘a change of mind’) under the lordship of Christ? Surely Jn. 3:1-8, 1 Jn. 2:29 and Tit. 3:4-8 speak of a birth from above, a washing and a renewal of the Holy Spirit. In declaring the Good News about Jesus, the Spirit is at work to awaken humans to faith, and this awakening leads to a new, transformed life! This transformation is not immediate, but God works within us and through us to transform us increasingly into his image. ‘Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession’ (Bonhoeffer).
  • Because the Church has in many places bought into a shallow discipleship, based on church meetings and seminars and programs rather than on the true Gospel and the transforming work of the Spirit, as we learn to obey that Gospel by grace. ‘Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate’ (Bonhoeffer).
  • Because the Church in recent times, due to popular dispensationalism among other things, has been separating the Pauline Epistles from the Gospels. Some even see the Gospels as part of the ‘old dispensation,’ whereas the Pauline Letters introduce the ‘new.’ It has taken a Pauline scholar like N.T. Wright to correct this heresy, pointing out that the Church has often been preaching the gospel without the Gospels. Should we not be hearing what Jesus himself understood by the Good News? [I so appreciate my College Principal, so many years ago, challenging us as seminarians to preach the gospel from the Gospels and not only from the Pauline Epistles (often the easier, lazier way?)]. Sweet and Viola in their ‘Jesus Manifesto’ convey the same point when they refer us to the disturbing modern trend of many Christians separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. They either focus on the Jesus of the Gospels to the neglect of the Christ that Paul presented in his Letters, or they focus on Paul’s revelation of Christ (usually as Saviour in both Romans and Galatians) and make the Jesus of the Gospels an endnote. Neither view lands us in the saddle.
  • Because the Church in recent times, in a desire to be popular and acceptable has often put the emphasis on the individual as the end of God’s purpose that we have missed God’s ultimate purpose in Christ which is to glorify his Son in all things (Col. 1) (see the writings of T. Austin Sparks and DeVern Fromke on this critical issue).
  • Because the Church in recent times, in its largely self-centred gospel, has often failed to promote Jesus as ‘the Man for Others.’ Jesus came to seek and save the lost, Jesus came to show us how to love God above all else and our neighbour as ourselves. And so we could go on…

In Part 2, I hope to define ‘costly grace,’ suggest some ‘cures’ for the deadly disease of ‘cheap grace,’ and conclude with a glimpse at the marvellous and triumphant grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that explodes across the Bible pages.

Thanks for travelling with me thus far!