Lent, Grace, And the Price We Pay
When I was 8 years old my parents had bought a water cooler. You know, one of those office water coolers with the 5 gallon jugs? Anyhow, my brother was just barely strong enough at the time to pick up a jug and put it on the water cooler. Now, this brother of mine was notorious for picking on me and one day, I was in the garage and my dad had told him to take a jug from the garage and put it on the cooler. All I remember is that I was lying on my back and my brother acted like he was going to drop the jug on me...well...acting turned into reality and he dropped the 5 gallon jug of water on my chest. I was 8...and very small. All I remember is that I could not breathe. The wind was knocked out of me and I flailed on the floor of the garage like a fish in the bottom of a boat.
There is nothing quite like getting the wind knocked out of you. You know in the back of your mind that you're not quite dying...but it feels like it. You struggle to catch a breath but can't. Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? Have you ever felt the struggle of trying to fill your lungs with breath? It is not a good feeling. And there are certain people in the world of Christian thought that simply knock the metaphorical wind out of me with a spiritual "gut punch." One of those people is a man by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
In probably his most famous book--The Cost of Discipleship--he spends most of the time talking about the saving grace of God. We are a fallen people, and it is only by the grace of God that we experience salvation. But Bonhoeffer breaks it down a little bit further. He differentiates between two different types of grace: Cheap Grace and Costly Grace.
Cheap Grace, as Bonhoeffer describes it is this (It’s translated from German, so read it slow…)
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares (cheap goods sold on the street). The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!…
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.
Jeesh. If that is not a gut punch, I don’t know what is. I remember reading that quote for the first time (and because of it’s strange German-to-English translation, I read it about 5 times before I truly got it), and it was a huge punch to the gut.
But it is this type of grace that points us toward the need for Lent. Lent is a time when we prepare our hearts and our minds for Easter, we participate in Christ’s sacrifice through repentance, confession, and personal sacrifice.
Bonhoeffer also contrasts cheap grace with a definition of what he calls “costly grace:”
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….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.
As we enter this season, beginning today, I want us to keep the words of Bonhoeffer in our hearts, and strive to live sacrificially for the sake of the Gospel.
Enjoy this season with all of the hope, love, and grace of Jesus Christ.