‘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!

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4 thoughts on “‘CHEAP GRACE’ [PART 2]

  1. If we have to walk a stony road it’s good that we can walk with the likes of you Erroll 🙂

    Recently I was in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and as preparation looked into the lives of Adonijah Judson and his first wife Anne. They were with William Carey in India before moving on into Burma. Anne was one of the first western female missionaries to go to a foreign land to preach, a decision which shocked her church friends in the USA, many of whom deserted her thereafter. She went not because she was married to a missionary, but because she believed she had her own call as a missionary. Reading her life story is heart wrenching – she suffered greatly and died at a young age. Adonijah went on to remarry. Because of their sacrifice there is a strong Christian presence in Myanmar today, even though the country is 95% Buddhist.

    Cheap grace can never produce such depth of character. Keep encouraging us along the stony road!

    • Thanks, Cheryl. Coincidentally I read the story of the Judson’s about six months ago, and like you was totally humbled by their love of God and the ‘sacrifices’ they were prepared to make for the Kingdom. Reminded me of the latter part of Heb. 11.

      Well done to your cricket team on its successful visit to SA!

  2. Thanks, Errol. As I’m contemplating these thoughts of yours, something comes to mind. The very basis of our so-called “Protestant” religious heritage stems from a time of “protest” against a graceless gospel. And so Protestantism is strongly associated with the “Jesus died for you” statement, as I learned from an early age in the Protestant Reformed environment of my childhood. “Grace”, according to this definition, was something sovereignly imputed, and it did not really demand any personal repentance or commitment to change one’s lifestyle. In fact, an emphasis on “holy living” was oftentimes dismissed as “Pietism”.

    This pendulum trick is reminiscent of something cognitive psychologists call “Reaction Formation”, that is , “a defensive process (defense mechanism) in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are mastered by exaggeration (hypertrophy) of the directly opposing tendency” (Wikipedia’s definition). I suspect that the inclusion of the verb “protest” in the way we identify ourselves is strongly to blame here. As long as we protest, we are putting a distance between us and our foes, and of course everything they stand for.

    It took Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life to teach me that Jesus did not only die for me (Romans 5), but also “as” me (Romans 6). Paul’s greatest argument against Cheap Grace is found exactly here. He challenges the intuitive assumption that increased grace leads to decreased motivation to change, by pointing out that change happens on the cross through the slaying of the Adamic person, followed by an infusion of the Christ life within. Forgiveness and deliverance are inseparable issues in Paul’s mind.

    And so, when I think of the Cheap Grace of my childhood, and the reasons behind it, I cannot help but think that many of us are making the same old mistakes again, albeit in postmodern garb. We are over-protesting against legalism yet again, and in the process we are exalting the work of the blood over the work of the cross, yet again.

  3. Hey Tobie,
    Thanks for contextualising the ‘cheap grace’ matter in your own experience and understanding – it resonates with some of my own encounters over the years (my father stemmed from Reformed background and I briefly flirted with Reformed theology in my very early ministry years).
    Thanks for your fresh insights, both psychological and theological (the one from Watchman Nee is precious!) – I’ll ‘chew the cud’ on those in the days ahead.

    Groete!

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