Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Oh, to Grace...

I do not often miss teaching Bible, but earlier today, as I was reading through an article responding to the viral YouTube video "Why I hate religion, but love Jesus", I couldn't help but think of an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I assigned several times.

The excerpt, the first chapter from The Cost of Discipleship, deals with the oh, so important distinction between cheap grace and costly grace. It was relevant to Bonhoeffer as he wrote the book in the late 30s, and it remains relevant to Christians to this day. What prompted me to think of Bonhoeffer in the first place was Kevin DeYoung's contention that many young Christians today have a one-dimensional view of grace.

Certainly, there is ample evidence to support such a claim. Universalism seems to be on the rise (or at the very least, not on the decrease); it doesn't help when figures as prominent and widely respected as Rob Bell openly deny the existence of hell. Grace functions as something of a humanity-sized safety net, something that will ultimately protect all of mankind from judgment.

Here's where Bonhoeffer's wisdom can be instructive: such a treatment of grace as this, Bonhoeffer calls "cheap grace". Grace that can be bought or sold, grace that lacks any transformative power, grace that serves as a blank check for all of the sins we wish to commit or a get-out-of-hell-free card. It's an attractive way to view grace, make no mistake--"Jesus paid it all, therefore I can order everything on the menu and catch up with Jesus later!" Huzzah!

...Except, this is missing the point entirely, abusing the gift of grace completely.

If God's intent in sending Christ to die was to reconcile us to Himself, then what ground could be gained from giving humanity carte blanche to continue in rebellion (ordering everything on the menu)? Perhaps grace is more complex, more wonderful and *gasp* more powerful than "you can do whatever you want because I died for you!"

Bonhoeffer contrasts cheap grace with costly grace. It's still a gift, given regardless of who we are or what we've done; we cannot begin to earn it. However, what sets costly grace apart is our response--instead of squandering grace, we must live according to grace, allow it to saturate our hearts, to mold and reform our desires, wants and needs. We cannot pay for a gift so priceless, and so in receiving such a gift, our gut instinct should be to give our all back to Christ; to dedicate ourselves wholly to Him. It should be, but it often isn't. We are, after all, estranged from God--broken, we are. So, we confess our sin--not in the defiant, almost proud voice that boasts "This is who I am, and if you don't like it, tough!", but in the humble, honest voice that cries "Here I stand, broken and in need of grace; Heal me, Father!"

Bonhoeffer describes grace as a pool that we must return to and drink from again and again. Notice the difference between this and the metaphor of a blank check! Once the check is written, all accountability is off, and the recipient can do with the check what he or she pleases without fear of repercussion. A pool, however, must be sought--seeking is as simple (and as profound) as following Christ, clinging to Him for dear life. This is not works-righteousness; yet, following Christ fundamentally lends itself to obedience. It is not obedience for obedience's sake, but instead a by-product of a journey spent following Christ.

"I messed up." Yep, humans do that. Follow Christ.

"I messed up again." It happens. Follow Christ.

Notice there's no room in this framework for "Thanks Jesus, I'm going to drop some acid or chill at a strip club tonight--see you later!" Such an attitude is nothing short of rebellion, actually running further from Christ and ultimately making a mockery out of the gift of grace. We'll mess up, we'll sin, but repentance is key. Even if we must repent over and over again. You see, following Christ has the pesky habit of transforming our hearts, our lives. Discipleship is a journey and as time wears on, we don't stop sinning but our hearts do become more in line with God--what He delights in, we delight in; what He desires, we desire; we He grieves at, we grieve at. Sin still intrudes, and always will as long as we live in this broken existence, but willful rebellion becomes less and less attractive. We cannot achieve this ourselves--it is costly grace that transforms us in such a way.

So this is my concluding thought for this post, bringing all of this back to what I read in DeYoung's article: as a Christian society, we're getting better at stating our flaws and our foibles. But let's not for one second confuse confession with boasting; let's call sin 'sin' and recognize that, as the saying goes, though God loves us just as we are, He also loves us far too much to let us stay that way.

No comments:

Post a Comment