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Monday, July 1, 2019

Cheap Grace, Part One

Not too long ago I read about a pastor who received a call from a funeral home director. The man asked the pastor if he would speak at the graveside of a young man who’d recently died. The director told the pastor, “You’re my last hope. All the other pastors I’ve called have declined." 

When this minister asked why they’d declined, he was told that the deceased had died of HIV/AIDS. 

When the pastor arrived at the funeral home, he discovered the attendees were all men and realized many, if not all of them, were probably gay. 

When he finished his eulogy in the pouring rain at the gravesite, the men stayed and asked if he would read various Bible verses which they’d remembered from their childhood. 

He did so for nearly two hours. Afterward, the men thanked him and said it was the first time they’d heard Bible verses without a sermon of condemnation accompanying them. 

I think I understand the story’s point about the pastor’s kindness to read the men’s favorite childhood passages. But it appeared from the story that that is ‘all’ the pastor did. 

And ‘that’ is the deadly and malevolent problem in a growing number of churches today – Catholic and Protestant. Priests and pastors and deacons quote the happy verses and ignore the judgment verses. In so doing, they give people false and ultimately damning hope by telling them what they want to hear and not what they need to hear. 

To do that is NOT an expression of Christ's love, who calls all men and women to repentance, to turn from their sins and live holy lives. What clergy (and laity) do when they do what this pastor did is nothing less than help the sinner go happily on his or her way to an eternal and fiery hell. No wonder the Holy Spirit impelled Paul to write these words to young and timid Timothy: 

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4) 

The Lord Jesus warns us that the path that leads to life is a very narrow one, and consequently, only a few find it. But the road that leads to an eternal hell is a broad one – and lots of people are on that road. 

Part of the reason so many travel that broad road is because they hear from pulpits and read in so-called Christian books what is known as cheap grace. Cheap grace is a crossless Christianity, a Christianity exclusively focused on God’s love and rarely if ever on His multiple, multiple warnings and examples of His justice and His judgement. 

At the end of the 19th century, William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army warned of cheap grace this way:  “The chief dangers which will confront the coming [20th] century will be religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”

Decades later, the Holy Spirit again warned the church through Dietrich Bonhoeffer about cheap grace. Some of you might know the name of this great man of God. Bonhoeffer was a member of the Confessing Church of Nazi Germany. For as long as they could, he and other pastors of the confessing church stood openly against the evil sweeping across Nazi Europe under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and his minions from hell. Bonhoeffer eventually died on the gallows in the Flossenburg concentration camp – one month before the war ended. 

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer referred to 'cheap grace this way: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is 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, living and incarnate.” 

I will add further, cheap grace is to call Jesus the savior, but to not follow Jesus as the Lord of their life and lifestyle. Cheap grace allows us to go to church each Sunday, to sing, to read, to kneel, to stand, to receive Holy Communion – but there remains no change of heart, no inner conviction by the Holy Spirit, no demand of conscience toward full and undiluted obedience to the message of the Scriptures. 

Cheap grace tells us that as long as we make a profession of faith, as long as we are baptized, we are saved. Yet God directed Paul to write these words, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) 

Salvation through the grace of God is so much more than simply mouthing the words “Jesus is Lord.” It is so much more than being baptized. It is so much more than praying the Sinner’s Prayer or signing a book or walking an aisle. 

We are saved by a living and active faith that manifests itself in repentance, obedience, and love for God and our neighbor. Here is what the apostle James tells us in the 2nd chapter of his epistle: 

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” 

A moment later James adds:  Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” The apostle goes on to illustrate his point by speaking of Abraham’s faith as manifested in his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on that altar. He then talks about Rahab the harlot in the story of Joshua and Jericho – Rahab who was saved by her works – a manifestation of her faith – when she saved the spies. 

James then says with finality words we must never deemphasize: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” (verse 26) 

I do not mean at all to cast aside the necessity of faith. Those who have read my essays over the past many years know my theological position regarding faith and salvation, not the least of which is formed by Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8. But the apostle is also quick to add in verse 10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus FOR good works which God has prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. 

There is good reason the Lord Jesus said during His Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” And there is good reason the apostle Paul, in his letter to Titus, refers to good works no less than six times in those three short chapters. 

A lifestyle of holiness and good deeds is evidence of our Christian faith. It is a hard work to imitate Christ – and if anyone doesn’t think that’s a work, then they’ve never tried it. Holiness means putting on Christ, living as Christ in growing obedience to the Father’s commandments. 

That’s why the Lord Jesus told us: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words. (John 14:23-24) 

And then these words in 1 John 2:3-4 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 

In fact, this text in 1 John is one of the verses I quoted to a young man the other day who excused himself from being a Christian because of the hypocritical churchgoers he has known. I told him such people are nothing less than liars who may even fool themselves, but they are not fooling the Great Judge. Hypocrites in the pulpit and in the pew are nothing less than Satan’s Fifth Column in the Church. 

What is a Fifth Column? We will look at that in part two. Follow this link: https://tinyurl.com/y4dkn7f7 

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