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Sun am 1 February 2015 – Justus Swart
Gen. 3:4 –11; Luke 9:23-24, 57-62; Matt. 4:18-22; (Matt 11:30); Ps. 119:45; (Matt. 13:44-46)
This morning we will be re-visiting the familiar topic spoken about grace. Grace is something that even in the world today is always changing shape, its size, its packaging and keeps on turning into something new, something different as people are trying to appeal to the generations. There seems to be a definite confusion in the global Church when it comes to this topic. Some have ventured very far and very deep into the territory of ‘hyper-grace’ meaning ‘The doors are wide open, in you come, do not worry about anything it has all been taken care of, Jesus loves you. Do not change; carry on with your life.’ Then some have swerved the other way and claim to hang onto the idea of the remnant, living in the exclusive gift of God’s grace. Those highlight the two extremes from one end of the spectrum to the other. The Church overall seems to have quite a confusing message when it comes to grace. However when we look carefully and take the subject and look at it in detail, we will see that grace can actually be divided into two basic categories: Cheap grace and costly grace.
Cheap grace is seen as a possession or commodity of the Church which it freely bestows upon the world without much thought or limitation. Cheap grace functions as a principle or a system which proclaims forgiveness of sins as a general truth. It is saying that God has no desire to transform us, only to enlighten us to the fact that we are forgiven. There is no need for us to strive or focus too heavily on the strict Bible verses. We believe our sins are forgiven right before we have committed them, off course. Even Jesus said “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). In the teaching of cheap grace there is truth woven in that is slightly distorted in order to make us feel more comfortable about our lives. This form of grace has gained a massive momentum in the world today and is growing in all parts of the world and is appealing to many. It is in fact an enemy of the Church. These sound like harsh words but let us examine the conscience. Have you ever given much thought to your conscience? It is the little voice in the back of your head that is telling you right from wrong. I find it fascinating and almost slightly contradicting. Is it not strange that a man can perform an action and after performing that action he stands as either guilty or innocent to himself? You start immediately justifying the action that you have done. It all comes from one place, man’s dis-union with himself and man’s dis-union from God. We find all this in the origin of the Bible in Genesis – the fall of man and the birth of the conscience. Some extremely interesting studies have been done on the conscience and the self. To stand on trial as judge and jury for yourself is so contradicting that we almost have a separate personality telling us right from wrong inside of our minds. In Genesis we find the origin of this conscience. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (Gen. 3:4-7). Before man ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, man only knew God’s will. He knew nothing else. Good and evil did not exist as concepts. He only understood the perfect and complete will of God. Then he disobeyed and his disobedience split almost every decision into two, showing him good and bad, right and wrong. However after eating of the fruit, man’s eyes were opened and he could see good from evil and thus the conscience was born; a voice in the back of his mind telling him right from wrong. This is a state of man’s dis-union away from God’s will, but also dis-union with himself. Inside we are in conflict regarding right from wrong.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Gen. 3:8-11) Man for the first time felt fear and shame. God comes out to him and says “but who told you that you were naked?” Adam told himself that he was naked, his conscience told him, so he wrapped himself with a couple of fig leaves to hide himself. This story is repeated almost daily. As Christians we often stumble or make mistakes but instead of running to God we are bound by fear and shame. We construct a fig leaf made from cheap grace to soothe our conscience. First of all the real problem with what Adam had done was not his nakedness. The real problem is that he disobeyed God’s commandment. Adam’s conscience however was louder than the voice of God. Christians often make a mistake or sin and stumble and we just want to soothe our conscience and justify ourselves. So we find this cheap grace that says that it is all forgiven and it is okay. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring of repentance. It is baptism without church discipline; it is communion without confession and absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross; grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate”. That really brings the sword down on this idea of cheap grace. The Church today loves to give out grace without fixing limitations on us. That grace can only ever soothe our consciences and make us feel better temporality. Then we are not actually dealing with the root of anything. This kind of grace shy’s away from feelings of contrition, feelings of regret and a real deep sense of sorrow for doing something wrong. When something happens we numb ourselves to this feeling of contrition to actually come before God and hand over the parts of us that we do not like and allowing God to deal with it on the cross. We have a remorseless kind of Christianity because our consciences are so soothed by this cheap grace. And as long as we continue this way, how will the world ever have its faith in grace? Why would the world believe in the idea of grace if all they see is us moving on as if we do not even care? If they never see a change or a difference in us why would they value this thing we call grace?
Costly grace – It is the sanctuary of God; a place we are continually being invited into by God Himself. It is a gentle unmistakeable call to follow Jesus. This grace cost Jesus His very life. This grace then must equally require of us to give up our lives. We cannot earn it nor can we purchase it with good deeds. We can only respond to it by surrendering to the call of Jesus. Jesus tells us parables about a man who found a treasure hidden in a field. He then sold all his belongings and went back and purchased the entire field. He then tells us of a merchant who was looking for fine pearls and when he found this pearl of great value, he sold everything he had and bought it (Matt. 13:44-46). God requires your entire life, everything about you. You do not get to barter with God. God has paid the price with His whole life and then we give back just a little bit. That is clearly not what God actually ask of us. God asks for your life, sure, but He is also demanding it. Every inch of your existence has to be surrendered to God. We say “I have rights” but in God we surrender everything, all of ourselves to Him, to do with as He pleases.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it (Luke 9:23-24). Do we think that God is holding back from us? What is it in our mind that stops us from just surrendering completely?
The true worth of this grace is found in two places: The call and the response.
People almost seem allergic to any form of absolutes. Tolerance, although a good concept to begin with, has taught us to be apologetic about our convictions. One’s conviction is not more important than somebody else’s. ‘A high functioning life is a valuable life’ – that kind of thinking is in fact incredibly far from how God thinks about humanity. If we follow that line of thinking into streams such as ethics, euthanasia, old people, disabled people how can we say that their lives are less important because they contributes less to society? Life is valuable simply because it is life. God breathed it and that is how we look at humanity.
God is the only one who can usher a call in the midst of all our complex responsibilities, anxieties, hopes and fears and demand an instant response. Only God can do that. His call confronts us with utter simplicity and leaves room for only two responses; obedience or disobedience. Life gets complicated and difficult, I will never deny that. There is no simple route through life but when God calls you, you are facing the clearest and simplest thing you will ever see in your life.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (Matt. 4:18-22). This is almost comical, imagine Zebedee was busy with the nets and the next thing he looks up and his two boys are following some stranger. You know this does not make sense to the logical person; it is not a realistic scenario in which we found ourselves today. However the call was clear and the response was clear.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: “God’s commandment leaves man no room for application or interpretation; it leaves room for only obedience and disobedience.” That is extremely clear. When God calls you, do not try to interpret it differently over your life. You do not get the right to apply it in a different way than what God has called you to do it. These men they had responsibilities, they had relationships, they had hopes and fears but they responded immediately and dropped their nets and followed Jesus. They recognised the call of grace and could not have it pass them by. They recognised it instantly for what it was. This however was not the only instance in which Jesus called people. Some who Jesus called had very different reactions. As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62). Jesus almost came across as hard of hearing and said things to them that almost do not make sense. Why is He talking about foxes and birds and all these other things? What we need to recognise is that Jesus always saw through the different things and He understood the heart of the man He was talking to. There are three conversations here and we see how many sought the conscience-soothing cheap grace option which we spoke about earlier. Jesus was not willing to accept this. So here we have the first man. As they are walking he says, “I will follow you wherever you go”, just this blank canvas of commitment. People choose Christianity without ever counting the cost of doing so. Jesus answers him and exposes the gulf between offering himself and the actual cost of that commitment. Jesus was on His way to the cross to live out His destiny. No man can call himself to a destiny like that. Jesus talks about His road as the road of suffering. Jesus is also known by His scholars as the suffering Servant. The man said “I will follow You; I will go wherever You go.” Jesus knew, “I’m going to the cross; do you even know what you are in for?” So He says, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. I cannot find the body in you. I cannot see in you a place for Me to rest Myself. You are not prepared for this.” He does not say, “Thanks for the offer”, but He cuts straight to the heart. Unfortunately we never see or hear from this man again.
We move on to the second man whom Jesus calls. The man replied “Lord first let me go and bury my father”. He seems to have a legitimate reason to postpone following Jesus; he has to bury his father which was the custom of the day. He was bound by the law to fulfil his duty as a son. Cultural norms, traditions and laws however have the ability to form or act as barriers to following Jesus. They are not necessarily barriers but they can be. When God calls there is obedience or disobedience. This man wants to slow Jesus down. To bury your father meant to read out the will and to see if you gained any possessions. Maybe Jesus was cutting to the heart of greed in the man and said, “Let the dead go bury the dead, but if you choose to follow Me you forsake all of those things.” At this point Jesus makes it clear that His call supersedes everything. Every obligation that you have in your life is lower and lesser than the call of Jesus. A lot of people today are bound by too many reasons and excuses not to follow Jesus the way that He demands, on His terms. So their commitment is stifled by their desire to live half-surrendered to Jesus and half to the desire to have this cheap grace.
The third man also side steps the call. This man has the impulse to offer his own terms for his discipleship. He says he both wants to surrender to God but he want to retain his rights to do as he pleases, thereby actually nullifying his desire to follow. When people offered themselves Jesus always tested it immediately, simply but very accurately. He wanted to follow Jesus but also wanted to do other things. When you do it like that, the call and the response is actually nullified. This is part of the most common response we see today, we surrender to Him up to a point. They then carry on with their life as they would like it to be. He was looking for the cheap grace but Jesus however masterfully identified the problem by saying “No one who puts his hands to the plough and looks back is fit for the service in the kingdom of God”.
God calls us but we do not want to respond immediately or we want to respond on our terms and we want to hold onto our rights and still follow Jesus. This is not what it means to be called to grace. This is not what it takes to follow what we call costly grace. It means giving up our lives to Him not in part but entirely. Our conscience like to say “Surely this is enough!” but God is not satisfied until He is King over everything.
Jesus said “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). When I first read this verse I read it with a somewhat conflicted heart. If things are difficult, it is not always easy, it is not simple but this is only true of a man who is completely surrendered to God. Some of us might have experienced the lightness of this burden and some of us might not have. For some of us it felt heavy and uncomfortable and often times it actually hurt us. We follow the will of God and it leads to loss or it leads to pain and we read this verse and it does not add up. We are required to respond to Him daily, to seek after Him daily and not to opt out when things get tough. This commitment that we make does not go up to a point and then we say “I cannot anymore”. When things hurt, when things are difficult, when we are experiencing loss and pain, we have to realize that in our commitment to God we surrendered all of that to Him. Your grief, your mourning – God says, “Blessed are those who mourn”. He does not want you to ignore your pain but to surrender it to Him because that is part of your life; that is what He wants from you, everything. You cannot go through pain and tell God to stay out of it. I will walk in freedom for I have sought your precepts. I will live in freedom because I have sought your precepts (Ps. 119:45). True freedom only exists where we seek after God with all of our being.