Our churches often serve as shelter against discovering the gospel. We get just enough of Jesus to prevent us from catching the real thing. Some people or churches are even in the business of preventing us from catching the real thing. They are hip and don’t think discipleship is important, for them it’s all about looking cool and gathering people around them who will listen and not ask questions. They want followers and don’t want Jesus to interfere with their following. They are worried that once we have experienced the real thing, we will lead the kind of life that Jesus did, the kind of life that Bonheoffer, St. Francis of Assi and others led. The kind of life that upsets and sabotages peoples easy assumptions, the kind of life that Jesus urged his followers to lead.
In the opening chapter of The Cost of discipleship, Bonheoffer takes great effort to contrast cheap grace (the grace the church all too often offers) with costly grace (the grace found in following Jesus).
Cheap grace requires no commitment. You can go about life as usual and call yourself Christian and not worry about what God would have you do; you can do whatever you want and when needed ask for forgiveness and then go about things as normal. You don’t have to take a hard look at how destructive your normal is to your overall health and well-being.
Costly grace asks you come and die to the self, to take up your cross and follow Jesus to the cross and beyond. It’s costly to follow Jesus, to take him at his word, to respond to the call of Jesus changes your life. No longer can you pretend you control your life, you don’t and the sooner you realize that the better off you will be.
Costly grace bids you obey God, follow God and doing that, you must disobey yourself and in disobeying yourself is the hardness of obeying God. Discipleship is what costly grace asks from us. There is a cost to being a true follower of Jesus, but don’t think that means we can buy or earn our salvation, because there is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God. It is through the complete work of Jesus on the cross that we are made right with God. Bonheoffer writes, “If grace is God’s answer, the gift of Christian life, then we cannot for a moment dispense with following Christ.” We must follow Jesus to have the fullness the Christian life offers.
I was reminded throughout the reading of this chapter of Les Miserables. How the bishop purchases Jean Valjeans salvation. Jean, a just released thief is given a bed in the bishop’s house for the night and before leaving in the early morning, he takes the silver and escapes. The police capture Jean and bring him back to the bishop who astoundingly claims that not only did he give Jean the dishes, but also the candleholders too. The bishop tells Jean “My brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I am withdrawing it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I am giving it to God.”
Jean goes on to do much good to those who come into his sphere of existence.
That to me is what it means to not settle for cheap grace, but to receive costly grace. It means to follow Jesus in everything. To do what the great martyrs and saints of Christian history have done and as St. Francis said to always preach the gospel, using words only when necessary.
Bonhoeffer ends the chapter discussing the costs of cheap grace for the church and individuals. I see these costs playing in different ways, such as those individuals and churches who are more concerned with how they look and not all concerned in how they treat the stranger, widow, and orphan. In those churches and individuals who concentrate more on doctrine and orthodoxy then living and loving as Jesus did. In those persons and groups who are more concerned in where people are going after they die and who is and isn’t in the ‘in’ group than living in the Kingdom of God now by showing God’s love and grace for others. God wants a relationship with everyone in spite of who they are or where they come from. Some churches are more concerned about doing church than being the church. It should matter that your church exists, not just for those who go to it every Sunday. Church should affect in a positive and transformative way the neighborhood around it. I believe that we should not so much worry about the right beliefs than about loving the unlovable and including the excluded. I am not so much worried about holding the right beliefs than about doing the right things. I am not so worried about orthodoxy, doctrine, and looking good, as I am in living in more loving and healthy now. The later God will handle, it’s the now that’s up to each of us.
1 Corinthians 16 advises to do everything in love. Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 10, Romans 13, Galatians 5, and James 2 sums up the entire law by saying love your neighbor as yourself. There are many other places in the bible that counsels us to love. The bible is more concerned about what comes from your heart and less concerned about having the right beliefs. The bible is more concerned about the now than the later.
I am not saying beliefs don’t matter.
I am saying and I believe the bible does too that loving others is far more important. That loving people and doing good comes from the beliefs you hold.
Like Luther, churches today (especially ones that trace their history to the reformation) believe we are saved “by God’s grace alone.” Some may wonder if Bonheoffer is arguing that we are not saved by grace alone. They may ask is the good news of the gospel cheap grace?
No! The really, really good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God loves us exactly as we are yet loves us way too much to keep us that way. Cheap grace is the first part. Costly grace is both! By saying yes to costly grace, you are inspired to act not to earn anything, but out of a deep sense of gratitude for all you’ve been given. The Gospel is the good news that God hasn’t given up on us and will heal and transform us into His hands and feet in the world. The gospel says you and I matter and there is a massive rescue operation at work in the world today. The Gospel says Jesus forsook heaven to heal and reconcile earth to God, to instigate an epic renewal of all things.
Bonheoffer suggests that those who live a life of cheap grace “hold on” verses “let go.” Letting go means affirming that we are not in control that God is and that is not an altogether bad thing, though it is tough to release the control of your life, it’s much better and easier when we do. We can stop pretending that we have power over reality. We can stop pretending that we are special. We can and should admit our powerlessness and surrender to God’s will for our life. We can and should stop pretending we are more than we are.
Something I’ve been holding onto is how I would like things to be. I would like things to be a certain way and am shocked, angered, and saddened when life doesn’t go the way I think it should. I am in the process of letting go of how I believe things should be and just surrendering to God’s will for my life. I need to realize not only with my head, but also deep in my heart and soul that God loves me and his plan works mine don’t. I want a job, my own place, and a loving and healthy relationship, but these things have not come my way, yet. Maybe, I am being tested and refined by God for some great work or he is transforming me into the kind of person who can handle these blessings. I need to trust God more. I need to be willing to go where God will send me and not just be open to it, but also prepared for it.
Soren Kierkegaard said, “What is essential Christianity! From first to last, it is a scandal, the divine scandal. Every time someone risks scandal of high order there is joy in heaven.” We should live our lives as a divine scandal, we should follow Jesus not to cause a scandal but to cause joy in heaven, which the world will see as a scandal. The world doesn’t want you to choose costly grace and follow Jesus, the world wants to control you and tell what to buy think and do, but as Christians, we must deny self and the world and shape our lives around Jesus. By trusting that God loves us in spite ourselves, what has happened to us and what we’ve done and that He loves us so much that He will not let us stay that way we cause a scandal. Lay down your burdens and he shall give you rest. Our worthiness lies not in the strength of our will, but in the steadfastness of God’s love, which is simply too fierce to leave you unchanged.