Friday, March 26, 2010

Costly grace

It may not come as a surprise to anyone, but I have several boxes of books in our basement.  OK, more than several.  They live down there along with my teapot collection, my children's baby-clothes, their childhood toys (waiting for grandchildren still a decade in the future, I'm hoping!), Beve's tools.  And now Grampie and Thyrza's cast-offs.  Baby Brother's cast-offs too, from when he lived here, then moved across the continent.

But all that's beside the point, which is that for the last week or more, I've been trying to hunt down a specific book that fundamentally impacted my life...and I can't find it.  It was so important when I first read it in 1982 that I sent it off to Finland to my buddy who was teaching and coaching there, the boy across the street, Not-yet-the-Beve, so I know we have two copies of it in our lives, but I can't find either one of them.  Finally, in a fit of what can only be described as desperation, I looked it up on line, in order to gather the salient quotes.  But wait, it's possible J has a copy.  Just a second.  Nope.  Not anywhere inside the house, either.  Checked every bookcase.  I really should alphabetize these books.  It would help...

So I'll cheat today. Sorry. Deitrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. When I was in college, back in the late 70s, taking a speech class at the small Christian College across the street from the University of Oregon, we were given a list of Christian monologues to choose our speeches from.  The idea was to prepare us for evangelism, preaching, whatever else came our way. I remember choosing one from a man named Stewart, which began, "Jesus Christ is standing at the crossroads of history..." but that's about all I can remember of it.  I took the class with a friend, whose name was John, who once asked me to write a poem to submit with his photograph from some contest--we came in second, or he did. Anyway, in this class, my single memory of his is when he mimicked Ann Kimmel, and if you're too young to know her, you won't get this. John was about 6'3, had a large afro and deep voice, and when he said, "i LOVE the word impossible," exactly as Ann--er, make that ann--would have said it, I could hardly contain myself. Even now, I can call up that moment, and his/her exact intonation, and it makes me chuckle. Probably not what either of them was hoping for.

For my final monologue, I chose the cheap grace vs. costly grace section of Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. I hadn't read the book, though I'd heard of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, had heard of the Christian pacifist who tried to plot Hitler's death in World War II and was executed for it. But I didn't really know his work.  But this section of the famous book grabbed me by the throat.  By the heart.

"Cheap grace is the justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. 'All for sin could not atone.' Well, then let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world's standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin..."

"Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is preaching 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..."

On the other hand,
"Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and self 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 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: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

Powerful, isn't it?  It took me 4 years to finally get my hands on the book and read it clear through.  Then with a pencil and notebook beside me, because it's dense and thought-provoking and changed everything.  By that I mean, I had been taking my faith superficially.  Had been allowing it--Him-- to penetrate only so deep, but perhaps no deeper.  Not to the marrow, anyway.  But all that I am for all that He is--that's what I wanted, after reading Bonheoffer.  No matter what it cost.  It's what I still want. For myself, and for all those around me.

I was thinking about this the other night because I was praying for my son.  I don't talk about this often, but I worry about my son.  For many reasons, most of which I have no freedom to express here.  However, I want him to come to Christ.  Not just to know the cheap grace he might have picked up earlier in life, and tossed out with his pizza boxes, but the costly grace that IS the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  And as I was praying, the thought came to me--the Holy-Spirit-inspired thought--"what would you give to have this happen?"  Immediately, I thought of Paul saying, "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, for those of my own race..." (Romans 9:3).  But here's the thing.  I couldn't say that. My stomach sinks to say it, my heart is a heart of stone as I admit it, that's it.  Death? Sure. Long, painful illness? BRING IT ON!  But to cut me off from Christ?  I don't think I can say it.  Even for my son.  My son whom I love.  Love more than life.  But apparently not more than Christ.

I read Paul's words again and again, and realize that he says, "I could wish myself accursed."  Could being the operative word.  I hope.  Would God ask this?  Would He ever?  I can't imagine it.  It doesn't seem like Him. But it's my struggle.  To love my son, to pray for him honestly, deeply, thoroughly.  To expect God to act like God, and to surrender to Him.  Costly Grace.  What will His grace cost me?  What cost God much cannot be cheap.

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