Worship God, study the Scriptures, practice the Teachings of Jesus as Lord and Savior.
(Excerpts from The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
“Cheap grace is the deadliest enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.”
“Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.”
“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 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. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.”
The words above, written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, are appropriate for us to consider during this most holy of weeks. As Bonhoeffer said, “The world was Christianized, and grace became its common property. It was to be had at a low cost.”
Protestant Christianity is mainstream in America. In many ways, our “world” has become Christianized. Whether it is more or less that way than at other times in our history is beside the point. Where is the risk? What is the cost? Simply an hour or two on Sunday mornings?
Especially in Holy Week, as we seek to follow Christ to the cross and eventually to the empty tomb, we need to consider what it is that we are seeking, and whether we really want to follow the path that leads there. The simple fact is that there is no way to get to the empty tomb, no way to get to the joy and elation of Easter morning, without first going through the cross on Friday night, and the emptiness of Saturday.
Cheap grace is the grace that costs us nothing. At church, we give it out like candy, as if it is ours to give. Cheap grace is the compartmentalization of our faith, placing it in a box only to come out on Christmas and Easter, or if we are truly “dedicated”, on most Sunday mornings.
Costly grace is the grace that costs us everything. It is the grace that resides at the end of a long struggle. It is the grace that exists in the walking with Christ, not on the beach with Christ carrying us as in the famous poem, but rather on the rocky path, uphill, in the snow, with no shoes…but with Jesus at your side.
The biggest problem that we have as a church in our current cultural context is that it is all too easy. Church is too easy. Faith is too easy. Where is the risk? What is the cost in following? What is the cost of discipleship?
My prayer for you this week is that you will consider the burden of the cross, not just the gift of it. For while Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30), it is only that way because we are not called to carry it alone.
But, It is still a yoke. It is still a burden. It is still a cross. And, there is still a great distance to walk.
Grace is free, but it’s never cheap.
(God Is On the Cross- Pages 68-69)
Jesus calls are all who are laden with many kinds of suffering and burdens to cast off their yoke and take upon themselves his yoke, which is easy, and his burden, which is light (Matt. 11:30). His yoke and his burden are the cross. To walk under this cross is not misery and despair but refreshment and rest for the soul. It is the greatest joy. Here we are no longer under self-made laws and burdens but are under the yoke of the one who knows us and who walks with us himself, under the yoke. Under his yoke we are certain of this nearness and communion. It is he himself whom disciples find when they take up their cross.
A king who dies on the cross must be the king of a rather strange kingdom. Only those who understand the profound paradox of the cross can also understand the whole meaning of Jesus’ assertion: my kingdom is not of this world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Lectures to the Congregation in Barcelona”
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest of your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 1: 28-30
How can the cross be easy, or light? The cross is heavy, both in physical size and in the way my parents used the word “heavy” (deep, serious, important). And, it’s certainly not easy. When I preach to people about picking up their cross and following, it is a call to sacrifice everything. That can’t be easy, can it?
When Bonhoeffer wrote the words above, he did so knowing full well what discipleship in his context meant. It meant sacrificing at every level: career, relationships, status, and eventually life. So, for him to say the following is significant: “To walk under this cross is not misery and despair but refreshment and rest for the soul. It is the greatest joy.”
I am reminded in this quote of my favorite Lent/Holy Week Hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. The hymn ends this way:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
In other words, if we truly see the cross of Christ as the gift that we know it to be, then what cost is too great? Is it really even a cost? Allow me to address this another way. Consider the following scripture:
We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:8
The call to the cross is a call to be at home with God, to follow the same path that Christ trod. It is not an easy path by any means, but at least it’s real. When Jesus says, “take my yoke upon you”, it is not an invitation to a life of ease. In fact, if we do it right, it should lead to financial ruin and public disgrace. But, would Bonhoeffer have been happy if he had chosen a different path? If he had signed that document that gave his allegiance to Hitler, would he have lived a long and happy life?
Bonhoeffer could sing in prison because he was living as his authentic self, and he therefore found himself in constant communion with Christ. He picked up his cross and followed, and he was granted peace. “Under his yoke we are certain of this nearness and communion. It is he himself whom disciples find when they take up their cross.”
Just one more week of lent. Pick up your cross. Who knows, once you do, you might find that you’re no longer walking alone.