Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cheap Grace, Costly Grace - Reflections on Luke 13:1-9

This has always seemed like an odd parable to me. A fig tree not bearing fruit. After three years, it seems that the owner had it right when he said to cut down the tree and make room for one who is making fruit. Yet the farmer knew he could had some things he could do and see if that would help. As I read this again I realized that I didn't have a clue what Jesus was getting at and what type of message this held for my congregation on Sunday.

The more I read it though the more I realized that it was about grace, costly grace. Not the cheap kind you can buy at Walmart or in bulk at Costco. My mind went to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship where he explains these two concepts.

Cheap Grace = "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church...Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before...Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline." (pp. 43-44)

Costly Grace = "Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought 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 call 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."


A story I won't share in my sermon but I will be hinting at is a situation I am ministering to at the moment. Without getting too detailed, a person's daughter is going through a hard time in her marriage. She has been abused and was at the brink of divorce the husband convinced her he could change. He cut her off for 2 1/2 months from her family and now is seeking forgiveness via email of his mother-in-law. There is no repentance in the email, only seeking forgiveness. To offer it at this moment in time is cheap grace.

A husband who abuses his wife has many things to deal with. There are acts of anger, jealousy, control, and trust that have to be delved into. I have had a run in with this husband and in my opinion he has a lot of work to do. To go from striking your wife and threatening her life with their children watching to marital bliss in 3 months stinks of a wolf in sheep's clothing. I hope there has been recovery but my advice to the mother-in-law is to tread lightly.

The gardener promises the owner that he will dig up the soil and put manure on it. Manure if stacked high only stinks. But if spread out will make things flourish. Cheap grace piles it on and hopes for the best. Costly grace digs up the soil and spreads the poop around until the tree and flourish and grow once more.

Costly grace is sought after by the sinner and given freely by our God. It cost God everything, and it costs us everything as well. If we are not willing to do the work, then off to shop at Walmart we go.

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