Thursday, November 24, 2011

No Turning Back

Along with leading a class called Christian Believer, I am also taking the Invitation to Romans, part of the short-form Disciple Bible Study series. Tuesday evening, we were discussing the typological use of Adam in Chapter 5, the question of original sin, death, and the sticky wicket of the universal efficacy of Christ's sacrifice and the penalty for Adam's sin.

The grace of Jesus Christ being the subtext of so much of Romans, mention was made of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. The leader of the class asked me to read a famous passage from the Introduction:
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.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buyw hich the merchant will sel 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, 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.
The book is, in essence, an elaboration of this passage. The movement between the costliness of the sacrifice of Christ, and the graciousness of the sacrifice; from the way we are called, called to leave all we have, venturing forth only because our names have been called, following without knowing whence the road will lead; from the fear and rejection and death that awaits us, to the joy and peace and life that is the essence of being a disciple of Jesus Christ - this is what the book concerns itself with.

I was reminded of the reality of the depth and power of Bonhoeffer's message - similar in so many ways to our own Wesleyan heritage of disciplined discipleship as a signifier of the mark of the cross on our lives - when I discovered my name brought up in a discussion elsewhere. Apart from so much else I find . . . troubling . . . about all of this, the lack of any understanding that we are to begin our understanding of what it is to follow Jesus Christ within a context of already having heard that call and answered it, of setting aside our nets, our tax collector's rolls, leaving our family and friends behind without condition or question or desire to fulfill some other obligation prior to setting our feet squarely behind those of the one who calls us.

It isn't the bigotry, which should be assumed. It isn't the quite palpable hatred, either. Rather, there is not a single mention of Jesus Christ. Not one. Somehow, a bunch of folks are talking about God and God's will and doing it without a single reference to Jesus Christ, who embodies God's will for us, a will for life, for freedom; a life of death and single-minded devotion and submission to the discipline of the one who's Way we follow.

It breaks my heart to consider the magnificent pearl of the Gospel cast before these swine. I am saddened to think that it is so easy to answer this call. To set aside all that was, all that made them who they are, to erase from their lives all that would cause them to stumble, and just start walking. Sure, the journey isn't easy. Good Lord, anyone thinking that should have their head examined! But, in the following, keeping one's eye fixed on the one whose lead we follow, whose voice first stirred us from our slumber, what could be easier? What else could make sense?

Having heard the voice of Christ in my own life, I have stopped hemming and hawing, making excuses and tripping over my fear. Way leads on to way, as Tolkien said, and the road ahead is dusty, and long, and the only thing I can do, the only thing that makes sense, is to see the one who called me walking along in front of me, casting the occasional grin over his shoulder at me. I know he knows I'm back here, and I glance away when his eyes flash at me. I keep going because, I see him walking, the holes through his feet not slowing him one bit, the fact that my life is responsible for those holes not dimming the love in his eyes.

Why make mountains out of non-existent molehills? Why not just sing the old refrain, "I have decided to follow Jesus/No turning back, no turning back"?

Virtual Tin Cup

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