There is a terrible epidemic in our Church. It is something that has been attacked quite constantly for the past 600 years, if not more so. It has been addressed by teachers and writers such as Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and, most recently, Francis Chan and David Platt. It is the problem of free, or as Bonhoeffer puts it, cheap grace.
This type of grace, available to all, but with no strings attached, has caused our church to be terribly ill. In his text, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer states,
“We justified the world, and condemned as heretics those who tried to follow Christ. The result was that a nation became Christian…, but at the cost of true discipleship. The price it was called upon to pay was all too cheap. Cheap grace has won the day. But do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang? The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost…We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard…What had happened to all those warnings of Luther’s against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make men rest secure in their ungodly living? Was there ever a more terrible or disastrous instance of the Christianizing of the world than this? What are those three thousands Saxons put to death by Charlemagne compared with the millions of spiritual corpses in our country today?”
When I first read these words, my heart broke. While Bonhoeffer’s words were spoken largely about the German and English churches, they could not be more true regarding the church in America today.
We have freely given grace away, and we have neglected discipleship and ignored Jesus’ call to walk the narrow path.
This sickness has caused the church to become, in Paul’s words, carnal. We have secularized the church and allowed many Christians to choose not to actually follow Jesus and instead just apply the teachings to their lives. It is, unfortunately, very much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. They taught the way to God without following God themselves or allowing anyone of their listeners to actually follow God.
Sadly, we are the same way. We teach the way to God but we don’t teach how to follow God. We show our churches and congregations the teachings of Jesus and how to apply them to their lives, but we don’t show them Jesus or teach how to follow Him.
We have said, “Pray this prayer and you’re good for the rest of your life.”
We have a terrible tendency to ignore the sins of the church and our members and we have failed to follow church discipline as it is laid out in Scripture.
It’s time we stopped giving grace away for free. It’s time we started holding people accountable for their sins, specifically Christians. We need to be willing to truthfully adhere to Jesus’ teachings and respond joyfully to His call, “Follow Me.”
We need to stop saying that following Jesus is just for the super Christians such as Paul, Luther, and, more recently, Shane Claiborne and his “new monasticism”. We are all called to follow Jesus and adhere to his teaching.
This is what the Sovereign LORD says.