I confess, I have struggled with religion my whole life. I feel as though I’ve always known Jesus. I grew up going to a Baptist church. I won the Christian character awards at my Christian private school. I was chosen to represent the schools I attended all the way up to high-school at school fairs and fund-raisers. I was praised time and time again for my character, my maturity, my faith, and my innate “goodness.”
Ultimately, this was harmful to my soul. I developed a spiritual pride, a self-righteous outlook, that slowly but surely killed my spirit. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I realized the true sinner I am. I had a terrifying vision of the death that lay within my soul. I was dying from the poison of self-righteousness and there was nothing I could do about it. But there was something God could do.
I realized in that moment that I truly needed God’s grace. He broke me that night, in my small college bedroom. I was utterly and completely broken. I felt the scales fall off my spiritual eyes, and for the first time in my life, I saw who I really was.
I was not innately good. I was not humble or servant-hearted. I was selfish, arrogant, envious, and bitter. I was honestly horrified at the fact that it had taken me 20 years to see who I really was. But I am eternally grateful that God’s gracious hand gave me this moment of realization. I cried out to God and he heard me. He began to heal me, putting back together these broken pieces of a girl.
That year my life shifted, but I still struggled with striving to please God. What did I do wrong to make this or that happen? Was He mad because I didn’t read my Bible or pray yesterday? Was He disappointed that I once again gave into gossip? Had I let Him down once again? My life was a web of performance thoughts. I had to perform a certain way in order to earn God’s love and grace. I believed this you see, because that is the way I had earned everyone else’s love and admiration, so I subconsciously put that characteristic upon God.
My last year in college I began going to a charismatic church (opposite side of the church spectrum). Here I found the message of absolute grace. No works required. Receive God’s grace and you are set.
I struggled with this message of grace. How could it be that I could seriously live my life with sin and all and still access this endless amount of grace? It bothered me that I could continue to walk in sin, but still count on this grace to get me to Heaven. How could I take this gift of grace and not do anything about it? Nearly five years later, the Lord has answered the question that has burdened me much of my young life. And the answer came in the form of a biography.
My question simply put was, “Where is the balance between obeying God and receiving His grace?” Does He still ask us to obey, or is it ok to just believe that Jesus is God and I don’t have to do anything about it?
The biography that has forever changed me was that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who I spoke of in my last post. I found one of his books, “The Cost of Discipleship,” which answered my question:
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. … Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. …In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Cheap graces means the justification of sin with out 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.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
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.
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. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. But those who try to use this grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.
Never in my whole life had I heard of “cheap grace” or “costly grace,” but as I read it I realized that I had been confused because neither doctrine I had learned had taught the balance of God’s grace.
You see, God’s grace COST something. It cost Jesus Christ his very life. It was a cost that none of us could pay, but Jesus Christ paid it and there-by we can have it. Obedience cannot come from our striving. Obedience is the natural overflow of us allowing Christ to live out through us. It is a complete surrender to the will of God. It is a trusting receiving that Christ has paid the price once and for all.
The obedience that Christ works out in us, by the Holy Spirit, however, will cost us something. It will cost our life as well.
When a person TRULY understands God’s grace, TRULY grasps at the cost of God’s grace and the enormity of this extravagant gift, it causes a reaction. It brings about the understanding Bonhoeffer spoke of, that grace is inseparable from the call to follow Christ. When a genuine heart is impacted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ a shift occurs. Their heart is forever pulled towards God, desirous of intimacy with Him. It is a shift from the desires of this world, to the desires of God.
Now, it is important to understand that it is not we who obey or work out of this new found faith. It is GOD who works in us to obey (Phillipians 2:12-13). It is by His power and His grace that obedience occurs in his people.
The real grace of God is costly. It is not a quick-fix to the eternal problem, one that we just have to say we believe and then we are safe. Real grace cost something, and the receiving of this costly grace will cost something as well. But my sweet brothers and sisters, it is a cost that is well worth it. For as you give up the things of this world as a natural result of His indwelling grace, you will surely find the treasure that lies within the trove of this costly grace.
I do not fully comprehend this concept yet. But in this moment I find peace in the marriage of these two seemingly contradictory doctrines. Bonhoeffer said, “We must attempt to recover a true understanding of the mutual relation between grace and discipleship. …Grace means following Christ.”
I pray that the Church may come to that true understanding soon. That we not dilute the Gospel in hopes of conversions, but that we preach the Gospel of costly grace unashamedly, because “The grace of God, without filters or explanation, [will] touch people” (Metaxas 272).
*Sources: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas and The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer