“Only he who believes is obedient; and only he who is obedient believes.”
“When Christ calls a man (or woman-CJS), he bids him(her) come and die.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
It seems as though it’s been a long time since my last entry here. Most of my recent efforts have been devoted to another of my online blogs, and have been concerned with politics and current cultural issues. While they have been rather self-satisfying, I question whether in the greater scheme of things they were really of much value. In fact, it’s rather discouraging sometimes that I find myself so easily distracted by things the world considers vitally important, but which will probably carry no weight a hundred years from now.
Fortunately, I have also been reading The Cost of Discipleship and the daily devotionals by Oswald Chambers as well as a couple of devotionals which come to my email daily. It helps to offset the toxic effects of a steady diet of political trash. It’s my effort to live up to what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8;
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
If you’ve never read them, I would highly recommend Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest as absolute must reading. Both are very challenging, for a variety of reasons. They are written at a higher reading level than the usual third-grade level of most works. The ideas they present will challenge your thinking because both go far beyond the ‘feel-good’ Christianity the modern church seems to prefer. If you’ve ever found yourself longing for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and Christ, these gentlemen will point you in the right direction.
The quotes listed above are characteristic of the doctrine that Bonhoeffer puts forth. He draws a huge distinction between “cheap grace” and “costly grace”. “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.” It is the grace that we grant ourselves, a grace that demands nothing of us, especially no change in our way of living. It is the reason the modern day Church has lost its message, its influence, and its way.
Costly grace is the grace that requires obedience to the call of Jesus Christ, “Follow Me.” It demands discipleship, and it leads to the cross and death. “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 a call made by the One who has the authority of God Himself to make it, and the one who truly believes in Christ will answer the call. Obedience is the only path to development of a deeper faith. It sounds paradoxical, and in one sense it may be. There is no credit granted for initially answering the call, and what we call ‘faith’ can only be developed through following Jesus and obeying His words without question. It requires giving all of your life on His terms to the lordship of Jesus, with the distinct possibility of tribulation, persecution, and perhaps even martyrdom. It is costly, cannot be undertaken lightly, and is the “narrow way” of which Jesus spoke. But the reward for those who remain obedient and faithful to the call is to spend eternity in the presence of God himself.
As Bonhoeffer accounts it, discipleship is not optional. It is not reserved for only those “super Christians”, the ones we consider to be morally superior to the ‘ordinary’ Christian. It is the only path available to those who wish to follow Christ. Failure to follow when we are called results in our being outside the kingdom of God. There is no other option. Those who choose to refuse the call, or wish to insert their own conditions for obedience, may evoke their own measure of cheap grace, but it is not the saving grace found only through Jesus Christ.
Oswald Chambers sounds a similar theme. The only thing that matters is our relationship to Jesus Christ. Without the proper relationship, acts of service are nothing. He constantly points out that Christians focus on personal holiness and charitable acts and programs, all of which are hopelessly misguided. Chambers is hard on those who focus on personal holiness:
“We lose power because we don’t focus on the right thing. The effect of the Cross is salvation, sanctification, healing, etc., but we are not to preach on any of these. We are to preach ‘Jesus and Him crucified’ (I Corinthians 2:2)”Oswald Chambers
Our focus is to be on our relationship to God, and only when it is correct will we be in accord with what He purposes for us. Our message is to have only one focus, Jesus Christ and his cross. Our relationship is to result in obedience to the call of God without question or reservation. Chambers’ devotional book My Utmost for His Highest is a compilation of lectures he gave to students at a preachers’ training school, and his message corresponds closely and nicely complements that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
So let me attempt to summarize what all of this means to me, and you can consider it and choose to apply it as you see fit. Jesus has called me to Follow Him. It’s not a call to show the world how holy I can be. It’s not a call to right all the wrongs of this world. It’s not a call that allows me to pick and choose how I respond to it. It’s a call to follow the path that He travelled, a path that required denial of his ‘rights’ as a member of the Godhead, a path that led to surrender of his own choices and desires, a path that led to humiliation, pain, suffering and death. That’s the call; that’s the expectation of us when we choose to obey the call. It’s a call that says, “I will follow you no matter where you lead me, I will obey you no matter what you ask of me, and I will surrender those things which prevent me from following you.” It is a harsh, exacting call which broaches no excuses or rationalizations on my part. But it also comes with the promise that I will not have to bear the burden alone; Jesus offers his yoke, “which is easy” because He firmly has a grip on the other end of it.
That being said, Jesus didn’t get tied up with the politics of his day, didn’t advocate overthrow of a corrupt government, or advocate for social justice on a large scale. But he did call self-righteous authorities on their self-serving hypocrisy, roundly condemned those who treated religion as a means of making themselves rich, showed great compassion toward the poor, the ‘sinner’, and the ones who suffered under an oppressive system of religion and government. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, forgave the sinner, and taught his followers to love all of their fellow man and care for the less-fortunate. He came to announce the arrival of the kingdom of God and pay the price of admission for all of us. He proclaimed the necessity of holiness and salvation, but made it clear that those were the actions of God, not man. He gave us the task of proclaiming Him to the world, to tell them of the Cross and the reason for it. When a person encounters Jesus, they never are the same even if they choose to walk away.
It’s fine for me to spend time addressing evils such as abortion, human trafficking, corruption and hypocrisy in the public sphere. But I need to be deeply aware of my reasons for doing so. If I spend all of my time writing or talking about the social ills of this nation and world, I’ve lost my focus. Nothing I can say from my own thoughts will change anything, because the solutions are not to be found in government, social agencies, or any other manmade solutions. The underlying problem is a heart problem; it is spiritual, not economic or a matter of inequality of this or that. Those are the symptoms, not the disease, and manmade solutions are a band aid, not a cure. That’s why Christians are given one message: “Christ and Him crucified”. It is the spiritual answer to a spiritual problem. Jesus told his disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The question remains to us: do we really believe that, and are we willing to put it to the test? Are we willing to live like people who have been drawn to Jesus, who chose to answer the call to Follow, to be living, breathing, walking and talking object lessons of the words He spoke?