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)