Monday, July 2, 2012

Bonhoeffer's Costly Grace

Dear Friends,

Today, I can only sit at the feet of Jesus and rest in His presence. I cannot recall a time in my life when grace has resonated more deeply with me than this morning. It pierces my heart, my very being. My helpless being who was rescued from behind enemy lines. And though I feel weak, I know that there is a sense in which I don't ever want to leave this place. For it affords such a view of the riches resulting from Christ's sacrifice. And so I glance at my weakness, but I meditate upon His strength.

I discovered a book on precisely the subject that's been on my heart for some time now: discipleship. What does this mean in our modern, multi-tasking, busy, and "important" lives?  Our so-called church "community" reeks of individualism and opaqueness. We can attend studies, conferences, and meet in one another's homes, and still find that, "You have no idea who I am- no idea what I am going through!" We find that no matter how rigorously we follow the church's schedule, no matter how well we are "plugged in", we are cut off from one another. We are cut off by work schedules, family obligations, and even the rigmarole of church involvement itself. And perhaps what is swept up in the swift tide of our busy lives is the detrimental fact of hidden sin. We have so little time to see our sin, much less still to reflect upon it or decide how best to assault it, let alone to actively confess it to one another in love and humility.

Admittedly, this individualism is not only encapsulated by our culture, though certainly it is cultivated and thrives here. But it was present, apparently, in Russia in the 1800's.

"All mankind in our age have split up into units, they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them. He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, 'how strong I am now and how secure,' and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence."


"Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort." 

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky (Book Six: The Russian Monk)

But the book I found this morning is, The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And through chapter one, "Costly Grace," God met me exactly where I am. And so I am hopeful of beginning a journey to understanding discipleship better.

Some quotes from chapter one:

"Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins."

"Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before."

"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."

In contrast...

"Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock."

"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. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner."

"Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'"

Why are churches across America being emptied by the pew? Perhaps because the grace they were offered in Christian America was cheap. "The justification of the sinner in the world degenerated into the justification of sin and the world. Costly grace was turned into cheap grace without discipleship." 

I recall being nineteen and standing behind a pew while we all stood and sang, "I Surrender All" for the hundredth time in my lifetime. I was quickly slipping into dissatisfaction with the church and becoming more and more astounded by the chorus which did not seem to be matching up with the people around me. "Really?!" I wanted to scream. "Who here is surrendering anything?" I just couldn't see it. Because I wasn't doing it. Christianity seemed to be a good luck charm in the pocket of the good ole' fashioned American.  Not the thing you give up everything for.  The very sonorous sound and tempo of the song seemed to coincide with the lethargic way we regarded the grace of God. "I... surrender all... I.....  surrender...*snore*.... all... " When is lunch? 

It would resonate with me later on with my face pressed to the carpet of my bedroom floor, when I proclaimed to Jesus that, "Yes, you ARE all I need!" After "accepting Jesus into my heart" ten years earlier, I now wrestled with this laying down of my life in whatever way God intended it. And I decided to follow where ever He led. "Though none go with me, I still will follow! No turning back, no turning back!" Yes. That made sense. When I surrender all, does the beast within me not cry out with a piercing scream of pain? That day, it certainly did. And it was beautiful.

In the all-you-have-to-do-is-accept mentality that I had formerly been living in, Bonhoeffer notes 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."


"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." 


Bonhoeffer discusses how Martin Luther proclaimed Sola Gratia, grace alone, in the protestant reformation, yet did not live this out through intellectual assent alone. It was a constant act of following and obeying. 

"In the depth of his misery, Luther had grasped by faith the free and unconditional forgiveness of all his sins. That experience taught him that this grace had cost him his very life, and must continue to cost him the same price day by day."

Let's press into this truth. Lay down today. Let Christ harpoon the monster within. For today is yet another day to leave everything behind and follow Jesus.

Cheers and God Bless,
Natasha W.

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