Sunday, May 7, 2017

“Grace Ain’t Cheap” (I Peter 2:19-25)

For a lot of Christians these two statements pretty much sum up their faith; from the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Then in Romans, chapter 10, verse 9, a similar sentiment: “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  For a lot of Christians that is all that matters . . . Jesus paid our debt, redeemed us, and gave us eternal life in heaven . . . all through his death on a cross.  And, all anyone has to do is to believe.

That may be true for a lot of Christians, but I disagree.  I disagree because to ground faith on the single act of Jesus giving his life on a cross is to cheapen the life, ministry, and purpose of Jesus.  German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred at the end of the Second World War shortly before the Allied Forces captured the prison encampment he was at.  As a pastor and seminary teacher in Germany in the 1930s he watched as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party grew in power and exerted its dominion over the citizens of that nation.  He watched as Hitler and the Nazis began the practice of death-making to exterminate those who were not of the true Aryan race . . . he watched as people were herded away, sent to concentration camps, and eventually killed.  He watched as more and more freedoms were taken away and replaced with strict and restricting laws.  He watched it all and could not take it as a citizen of Germany, and especially as a clergy.  He stood in opposition to Hitler and the Nazi war machine.  He believed that as a follower of Jesus he could not stand idly by and allow this to happen.  He believed that this is what Jesus would do.  His opposition landed him in prison . . . and, eventually cost him his life.

Grace ain’t cheap.

In his 1937 book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer defined “cheap grace” as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline.  Communion without confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”  This “cheap grace” according to Bonhoeffer is to hear the gospel preached as follows: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.”  In other words, to believe is enough . . . period.

That, believes Bonhoeffer, is “cheap grace”.

Believing is not enough.  Living as if one believes implies an effort to move beyond the final scene of the crucifixion and to look at the whole and holy picture of Jesus . . . his words, actions, ministry, and the ultimate fulfillment of it all in his death and resurrection.  Belief in Jesus cannot be mandated into a life insurance policy or an “escape jail” card telling us to pass “go” and collect two-hundred dollars.  That is “cheap grace”.  All of it must be embraced and lived if one is truly a follower in Jesus.

Grace ain’t cheap.

This is what the Apostle Peter is attempting to convey to those who called themselves “Christians”.  Peter’s letter was addressed to these “Christians” who were scattered throughout the northern part of Asia Minor who were facing persecution and suffering for their faith.  His goal is to encourage these people to remain steadfast in not only believing, but to also live their beliefs . . . to follow in the footsteps and example of Jesus himself.  It is the price one pays for living a life of true belief . . . look at Jesus, he tells them.  Grace ain’t cheap, it comes at a cost.

Peter writes: “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God . . . to this you were called, because Jesus suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps.”

As true followers of Jesus we must see his death in the light of his life.  Peter is not telling the people to “roll over and take it” . . . to be doormats in life.  Far from it.  He is telling the people to be like Jesus.  Jesus was always seeking to do good and to seek justice.  Jesus did not stand off in the shadows of the crowd . . . he spoke up . . . he asked questions . . . he stood for an alternative vision of what life could be--the Kingdom of God.  He pushed the envelope with his passion for doing good and seeking justice . . . of doing God’s will.  It was this passion that got him the cross . . . it was the only way the authorities felt they could quiet the noise.  Jesus did not get to the cross by being a doormat.  Because of that we must see his death in the light of his life; otherwise we have no idea what this life is for which he died . . . instead we see it as some kind of promise--some sort of divine insurance policy--that delivers us to a heavenly reward because Jesus already paid the price for us all.

Jesus never said it would be easy to follow him.  None of the apostles or early church leaders ever proclaimed that it was easy to be faithful.  No one who is truly grounded in a faith that emulates the words, actions, and ministry of Jesus would say that it is easy.  It is not easy to be follower of Jesus . . . to believe as he believed . . . to seek to do good . . . to seek justice . . . to love God in the good times and the bad times . . . to love others.  It is not easy . . . and, if anyone is selling you such a message; well, be careful.  It is a bucket of hooey . . . it is “cheap grace”.

I believe that we are living in a time in which our faith is the most difficult thing to live up to.  We are constantly barraged on a daily basis with situations which confront our ability to live up to the life and example of Jesus.  We are being challenged to decide between the ways of the world and Jesus’ way . . . Jesus’ way of seeking to do and justice . . . Jesus’ way of restoring the Kingdom of God . . . Jesus’ way of loving others.  And, the bottom line is that it is hard to stand up for Jesus and his ways.

It is in moments like that that it crosses our minds to take the easy way out . . . after all, Jesus has already paid the price for us . . . and, we believe. But, what good is the preaching of forgiveness if there is no call for repentance?  What good is communion if we do not confess?  What grace worth if there is no discipline . . . no cross . . . no example of Jesus and his life?

Jesus gave his life for what he believed . . . he gave his life because he believed in us.  Believed in us that we would pick up the mantle and seek to do God’s will of bringing the Kingdom to the world.  Grace is not cheap as Jesus demonstrated.  Peter wrote: “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God . . . to this you were called, because Jesus suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps.”

Jesus stood up for us . . . will we stand up for Jesus?  My prayer is that we will.  It won’t be easy, but that is the cost of discipleship.  Grace ain’t cheap . . . thank God!  Amen!

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