Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cheap vs. Costly Grace

Cheap grace does not demand anything from us. Costly grace demands everything from us. "Cheap grace," Bonhoeffer writes, "is the grace we bestow on ourselves." (The Cost of Discipleship, 44). Cheap grace remains very common--it is the one error which is common to all the churches I have visited in the town I am currently in. It is a grace which does not save from sin. Bonhoeffer:
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. (ibid., 45)
 Cheap grace is not always accompanied by an attitude which allows everything to remain as it was, though Bonhoeffer seems to focus on that sort. It is sometimes accompanied, instead, by leaving the removal of sin up to the sinner, rather than up to grace.
That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. (ibid., 44)
This is what happens when we leave by grace alone at the entryway into the Christian life, and do not bring it through the whole of life in Christ.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 3:2-6)
Here we see that we not only enter into Christ, but continue in him by faith. Thus, we are not only justified by faith, but also sanctified by faith. Our good works, which we are called to walk in, are not works according to the law, but according to grace--we do them, now, through the Spirit of God and not by our own power. Thus our good works are not ours, but the result of our union with Christ by faith.

Cheap grace says that we are okay. Costly grace denies this, instead it recognizes that we are sinful and calls us, graciously, to change, and in so calling us God empowers us to change. Preaching cheap grace only recognizes that we have been saved from the guilt of sin, but leaves us to live as if we were still under the power of sin. Costly grace commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, since it is no longer our power, but God's which acts in us to renew us into the image of his Son, whose image we truly bear.

Preaching of this kind reminds us who we are, that we are in Christ, and thus motivates us to good works--not by tricks of psychology, not by fear of earthly things, but from the love and fear of God almighty who saved us and is with us to purify us. Preaching of cheap grace leaves us where it found us: in the grip of sin. God's grace costs us our lives. Being a Christian involves the death of oneself. Preaching, therefore, cannot afford to leave us in the comfort of being in charge of our own sanctification, but must demand that God be granted authority--as he already truly has the authority--to work in us.

We like to work at our own sanctification, and we must work, but not as if it were up to us, and thus our failures are not our own. It is God who works in us, and it is therefore in him that we find the power to change. We do not change ourselves, but rather we are changed by gazing upon the lord our God. Our sanctification is accomplished by living before God. And this is not a work, but a joy, because we know that God is good.

Sanctification occurs because God is who he is. Salvation is the beginning of this, where we are made right in God's eyes by faith, that is, by trusting him. Sanctification is the continuation, or expansion of this trust, and the working out of this trust. When we preach as though we had to do good on our own, we deny the power of God, because we do not depend on God to work in us, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We therefore must go to God for sanctification, not only to know what we ought to do, but to be enabled, indeed, impelled, to do it.

My conviction is that our sins are due to a lack of trust in God. We do not trust him because we do not know how good he is. We do not know how good he is because we do not seek him in his word and by prayer. Scripture is beautiful because God is beautiful, and we therefore see the beauty of God in Scripture. We are then moved to praise him and worship in every way: by prayer and by singing, but also by doing his will. And when we know who God is, that he is holy and powerful and righteous and loving and merciful and that he is with us, then we will see that, if God is for us--as he is--then we have nothing to fear. We will then act in the will of God more and more as we trust him more and more to take care of us and our concerns.

So long as we preach a "grace" which does not free people from their sins, we preach Godless works. So long as we preach works without the power of God, we preach guilt, law, death. Can this grace save? Can we depend on Christ for salvation from hell and reject his lordship in this life? And yet this is what this cheap grace does! For it denies the lordship of Christ by trying to sanctify the sinner by the power of the sinner, rather than by dependence on Christ, and it denies the authority of Christ to save from sin by refusing to let him save from the power of sin, and it removes Christ from the life of the sinner, despite what Christ said, "behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) by leaving him out of salvation, as if he were far off. But our salvation, and so our sanctification, is always dependent on Christ's power, acknowledging his authority to work in our lives, and done in the presence of Christ, as we follow him as his disciples. It is necessary to return to Christ, then, for those who have turned to this cheap grace, lest they be rejected at that day and be among those who say to Christ
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Christ crucified means that Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins, and he did not do the job halfway, but when he died cried out, "it is finished!" That is, sin is killed. Not only are we freed from the guilt of sin as it was killed on the cross, but we are also freed from the power of sin, since it is dead and cannot, therefore, do anything. We are in Christ. Therefore, sin is dead to us, and we are dead to sin. This does not mean that we may continue in sin, but that, to us, it is as though sin were not there to be lived in--insofar as we do live in sin, we live in a past which is fading away. We are called out of darkness and into light because we are now children of the light: it is where we belong.

To preach a grace which addresses only the guilt of sin is therefore to deny that we are united into Christ's death. To try to be perfected "by the flesh" is foolish. We have the Spirit of God who is far more powerful, and is willing--even eager--to perfect us.

Turn, then, churches! Return to Christ and be freed!

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