Pastor’s Perspective – October 2020
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was best known for his book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” In that book he attacked the Church’s tendency to confer what he called “Cheap grace” upon those who would claim to be members of the body of Christ. Bonhoeffer defined the terms in his book as follows…
“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.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
The problem with cheap grace is that because it is not real, it is not transformative. It is self-confidence wrapped in biblical code words. It sounds good, but provides no solutions, no redemption, no change. The only thing that cheap grace provides is talking points and bluster.
America in 2020 is a nation that is being destroyed by cheap grace.
I am writing to you in an election year. A year in which every good American casts their ballots and chooses the direction for the future. We imagine that our votes will make a difference in the way in which history is told and whether evil or good will triumph. We have been taught that nothing that we do is more important than the way in which we vote and in the previous decade the emphasis on voting has been as overwrought as Shatner performing Shakespeare. Red and Blue states emphasize the vote as the citizen’s most critical duty. We wear our partisan vote as a sign of our fidelity to our gods and a sign of our camaraderie to our allies. Yet like any other false system of worship, praise, or praxis; the more we rely on our vote the less we actually do the very things that can transform our lives and communities.
If cheap grace in the Church is attending worship and enjoying the ‘nice talk,’ then cheap grace in the nation is watching the correct news network and showing up to vote for the party that makes you feel good about yourself.
Cheap grace is getting a trophy for signing up to play a sport. Cheap grace is thinking that the world will change because of our twitter feed, Facebook posts, or sermon series. Cheap grace is imagining that walking with God involves the ability to do so while listening to your favorite podcast or playlist. Cheap grace is the miracle diet, the memory enhancing vitamin, the device that will give you six pack abs without crunches. Cheap grace is a tax cut that will lower the deficit, a tax increase that will feed the poor, and a tax plan that will sock it to the wealthy. Cheap grace is how you feel when you wear a mask to beat the virus and how you feel when you don’t wear a mask to show that you are not afraid. Cheap grace is empty rhetoric that sounds too good to be true because it is too good to be true. Cheap grace is what happens when we take control of our own spiritual formation without someone who tells us no.
Cheap grace is killing the Church. Cheap grace is causing the nation to descend into madness and violence. Cheap grace has never been more popular than it is today because cheap grace is all about me getting what I want without having to do the things that demand courage, sacrifice, and pain. Cheap grace always leads to decline, because cheap grace does not emphasize the practices and activities that build and sustain our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives.
How then shall we live?
Bonhoeffer (and the Biblical tradition) teaches us that the answer to cheap grace is costly grace. Costly grace is more than a rhetorical antithesis. Costly grace establishes the correct mindset for action. Costly grace informs us that without pain there can be no gain. Costly grace reminds us that our allegiance to Christ demands that we turn away from the worship of Baal, Allah, or mammon. Costly grace tells us that for us to create communities of love and hope we must first count the cost and forgive our enemies. Costly grace tells us that for the world to change we must be willing to pay a COST.
The cost for the Christian must be viewed through the lens of God’s in breaking in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity. Jesus showed us the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus showed us how our response to God should look. Jesus walked in sacrificial obedience to God and for others. He lived a life of obedience to God and love for God’s people. Jesus did not only do this to provide for our salvation (the fundamental tenet of Cheap Grace). He lived this life to show us the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE that we also should live. It is not enough for us to receive God’s grace or to embrace God’s truth as if it were an inheritance given without expectation. The Church is not called to live in the blessings of our fore parents, nor is it called to learn how to articulate and believe the correct things. We are called to extend those blessings and share those truths in righteous conduct and faithful living for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of our children’s children.
In this same way, the Christian living in this nation needs to embrace the call of Christ in our civic duty. It is not enough for us to believe the right things and vote the right ways; we must live the right life and walk the right path. This is our calling; to walk in obedience and love for God and each other. Our call is to live in relationship and community with God and our neighbor. It demands that we offer good will toward our fellow citizens and is the minimal expectation of a civil society based in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
There is little we can do to impact the election in November. We have but one vote, a drop in the bucket, and easily overcome by our neighbors and friends. Yet we vote with the expectation that our input and activity is essential to the body politic in the nation.
Consider this truth. We vote, at best, once a year. We live and act 24 hours a days and 7 days a week. We meet and greet people each day. We post on social media daily and sometimes more frequently. Each interaction should be counted as a vote. You have a far greater impact in how you speak, post, and live your daily lives than in the ballot you will cast in November.
I am not telling you that your vote is unimportant. Cheap grace doesn’t mean that grace is unimportant. It only means that grace is the starting point not the purpose of life. God’s grace allows us to walk with God. It places us in God’s presence. But once we are there what do we do? Do we really think the table at the Heavenly banquet will be filled with people looking at their phones and scoring points on twitter?
What I am saying is that you cannot be an American once every four years and pretend that you are a good citizen. This is cheap grace. It plays on your ego and allows you to believe that voting is enough to change the nation, that voting is the only duty. It is not. The challenge to each of us is to live our faith and virtues every day; all the time. Our nation needs to be transformed. We are in trouble. Vote. But don’t stop there. Daily act in love and godliness. Love your neighbors. Share your blessings. Be the Body of Christ. Every… single… day. And watch what happens when the Church embraces the costly grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.