Cheap Grace

I started reading a Bonhoeffer book last week. He wrote it in the 1930’s, but it reads as if he wrote it yesterday.

Is the price that we are paying today with the collapse of organized churches anything else but an inevitable consequence of grace acquired too cheaply? We gave away preaching and sacraments cheaply; we performed baptisms and confirmations; we absolved an entire people, unquestioned and unconditionally; out of human love we handed over what was holy to the scornful and unbelievers. We poured out rivers of grace without end, but the call to rigorously follow Christ was seldom heard.

Bonhoeffer coined the term “cheap grace”. When we share with others that Jesus died on the cross for them and “all they have to do” to get to heaven is accept that, we are setting them up for the biggest fall of their lives (perhaps of their eternities as well). We tell people they just need to check that belief box, and then they can go about their way, living however they want to because all is covered by grace.

But that’s not the message of the Bible.

Belief in Jesus without repentance (defined as being truly contrite and resolving to do the opposite of the wrong you have been doing through the power of the Holy Spirit) is not true recognition of the depth of one’s sinfulness, of the holiness God requires of us, and of one’s need for Christ’s substitutionary death.

When we limit our sharing about Jesus with others – whether individually or from the pulpit – to “cheap grace”, we are only telling one half of the story. Yes, Jesus died to save us, and, yes, there is not one “good work” we can or need to do in order to be saved. But the grace God offers us through the killing of His Son is not cheap at all. As Bonhoeffer says, it is costly grace.

God’s extension of grace to us cost Him His Son. Go back and watch Jesus be beaten to a pulp and crucified in The Passion of the Christ. Not easy to watch for us; how much harder for Jesus’ Dad?

And the Christianity to which Jesus calls us is not cheap either. Go back and read Jesus’ commands to the disciples to give up everything and follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22); to hate their families in comparison to how much they loved Him (Luke 14:26); to die to themselves (Luke 9:23-24). If they wanted to be saved by grace, not having to do anything to earn salvation except believe the Gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9), the disciples would have to do it on Jesus’ terms. And His terms were/are, “accept Me as your Lord and Savior”.

When we offer people cheap grace, we erase “Lord” from Jesus’ terms. We shout Savior, but we don’t even whisper Lord. And that’s not biblical. People think they are becoming Christians because that go-to-Heaven-without-doing-anything deal sounds pretty good to them. But they aren’t surrendering any part of their lives, much less all of their lives to Jesus. They aren’t making Him their Boss. Cheap grace.

So our churches fill up with people who are fat on cheap grace and have never even heard of costly grace, if they attend church at all. The Christians who shared the gospel with them are to blame. And the pastors and Bible teachers they sit under are to blame. Our congregations swell with people who don’t live like Christians because they haven’t been taught the full picture of what it means to follow Christ. They prayed a prayer for cheap grace and think that’ll do. They go to church because it makes them feel good and/or just in case there was some fine print on that cheap grace that says they really DO need to attend church in order to get into Heaven. But after awhile, they don’t really see the point of attending church… they are confident they have their Get Out of Hell Free card, and sleeping in on Sunday mornings or going to brunch early to beat the church crowds is much more appealing. They stop attending altogether, only to be replaced by other people who have bought cheap grace. And on and on the cycle goes.

[Note: many people who accept cheap grace sincerely understand their need for a Savior and believe that Christ is the only Savior who will do. If this is the case, hear me: I believe they are just as saved as people who understand grace is costly. The difference that burdens me is not necessarily their eternal destinies being different. What burdens me is that when people stop at cheap grace and never come to understand costly grace – when they never move beyond belief in Christ to actually following Christ – THEY MISS OUT! They miss out on having a relationship with God that is more intimate than any relationship they have with a human. They miss out on being set free from sin patterns that hurt them and their loved ones. They miss out on being a part of the miraculous, powerful things the Lord is doing all around them. Cheap grace robs them of the life God has for them now.]

As I continued to reflect on what I was reading in the Bonhoeffer book, the Spirit politely insisted I take a look at myself.

I began to wonder if I am guilty of preaching cheap grace to people. I tell people about Christ every week. I share the Gospel. But have I shared cheap grace to the neglect of costly grace? Do I make it a point to emphasize to seekers that their decision to accept Christ as Savior must also include accepting Him as Lord? Boss? Master? I also teach Christians the Bible every week. But have I really been teaching believers cheap grace to the exclusion of costly grace? Am I too quick to offer grace when believers really ought to be challenged to follow after Jesus more completely?

Last week I read this:

Costly Grace

What is our Christianity costing us, really? If we are not committed to doing whatever He wants however He wants whenever He wants no matter what, we need to seriously consider whether we’ve been sold cheap grace. If our being a Christian isn’t costing us anything – everything – we don’t understand what being a Christian really is. The good news is Jesus wants to lovingly teach us.

Are you willing to be taught? 

A Conversation within a Conversation

Have you ever prayed mid-conversation? Not out loud, but just silently in your heart? 

Have you ever been having a conversation with someone, and while they are speaking or during a pause, you start talking to God about the conversation you are having with that person?

Confused yet?

It’s a conversation between you and God within a conversation between you and another person.

There’s an example of this in the Bible that may help illustrate things.

Nehemiah, cup bearer to King Artaxerxes of Susa, was burdened that his homeland, Jerusalem, was in ruins. The sadness was so evident on Nehemiah’s face, the king noticed it immediately and asked for an explanation. Nehemiah was afraid, but he told the king about the situation in Jerusalem anyway (Nehemiah 2:1-3).

The king responded, “What is it you want?” (Nehemiah 2:4).

Up until this point, Nehemiah hadn’t expressed what he wanted to anyone in this account. Maybe he didn’t even know.

What Nehemiah did next is significant. Instead of immediately responding to the king’s question, Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven…” and then he “answered the king,” (Nehemiah 2:4:5).

Nehemiah stopped and had a conversation with God within his conversation with the king.  

What do you think Nehemiah said to God? Maybe he asked for favor from the king. Maybe he asked for God to order his words as he made a request of the king. Maybe he asked God what he should ask the king for. Maybe he asked for protection from the king, who, I’m sure, would’ve been well within his rights to fire, if not kill, Nehemiah for asking for time off.

At any rate, Nehemiah prayed before he responded.

And that half of a verse, when applied in our own conversations, could be a game-changer (when we remember to do it). 

I’ve experienced some “success” with this concept while witnessing.

In a ministry I work with, I do a lot of “cold” evangelism, meaning I talk to strangers about their spiritual beliefs. I don’t have a lot of time to get to know these women, so I don’t have much to go off of as far as deciding what angle to take with them.

But what I do have is the Holy Spirit. He knows these women more intimately than I ever could, and He also lives inside of me, which is convenient.

When I get to the part of the conversation that involves asking a woman to tell me about her spiritual beliefs – and when I can remember to ask the Spirit to say through me what each woman needs to hear about Jesus in that moment – some pretty cool things happen. In other words, when I remember to have a conversation with the Lord within my conversation with the woman, things usually go better than when I forget to consult Him.

I may also have tried this “praying before I respond” concept with my husband and kids on occasion with varying degrees of success, but I wonder how much better communication and conflict resolution would go with them if prayer during conversation became the norm instead of the exception.

While it’s not a formula we can manipulate God with, when done with the right heart – one of seeking wisdom from the Lord and for the Lord – I think it’s a pretty wise approach to interpersonal communication.

How He Loves Us

“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

This sentence stole my breath yesterday.

I came across it in the Gospel of Mark, where an account of Jesus’ interaction with a rich man is detailed.

Mark 10:17-22 reads like this,

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Some things strike me about this account.

The rich man obviously respected and revered Jesus, falling on his knees and calling Jesus “good teacher”. The man appeared to be a devout Jew, upholding these major commandments Jesus mentions. And, yet, the man was very concerned that he might need to do even more to inherit eternal life… It seems this guy wanted Jesus, a leading Rabbi, to confirm that he had dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s when it came to his salvation. He wanted assurance, something, ironically, he would not find in doing anything more.

There he was, pleading his case to Jesus that he had done everything required of him by Jewish law (or at least the “important” things as expressed in the 10 commandments), but he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that his eternal destiny didn’t depend upon him doing anything…

Instead of wringing the man’s neck in anger… instead of shaking His head in disappointment… instead of throwing His hands up in frustration… Jesus looked at him and loved him.

Jesus validated this man’s worth by looking at him instead of away from him, and Jesus loved him in spite of his failure to understand what Jesus was saying to him. 

Jesus continued, explaining to the man that what he really needed to gain eternal life was to place his faith in Jesus, by way of selling his possessions and following Christ. Unfortunately, this man wasn’t willing to do that.

Two thoughts cross my mind.

One, do we approach the lost this way? When we share the Gospel and people don’t get it, do we look at them and love them anyway? Do we treat them with dignity and respect? Do we continue to care for them in our hearts?

The second thought I have is far more personal. I am often the rich man in this story; I don’t get what Jesus is saying to me, or, worse, I get it and choose not to follow Him. But just as He did with this man, Jesus looks at me and loves me anyway. His is a beautiful compassion that does not waver in response to my behaviors or short-comings. 

And He feels the same way about you. No matter where you are in your journey with Him, He is looking at you with the loving, healing, calming, faithful gaze that only our perfect Savior can sustain. May your heart be steadied by His look and His love today.

Why We Need to Know Why We Believe What We Believe

The woman overheard me telling someone else I am teaching high schoolers at church. That must’ve piqued her interest because she asked in a positively curious tone, “Oh, what are you teaching?”

“Apologetics,” I told the 30-something year old Christian.

“Oh….what does that mean?” she asked, her tone now more confused than perky.

“It means knowing why you believe what you believe,” I responded.

“Oh…” she said uncomfortably, “…that’s….cool….” She didn’t know what else to say, I guess.

Unfortunately, I think this conversation could take place with a large number of people who genuinely love Jesus in our churches.

I’m concerned for Christians who don’t know why they believe what they believe and are OKAY WITH THAT.

Most of the people in this category probably grew up in church. They’ve always believed Biblical doctrine (and some not-so-biblical doctrine, but that’s another post entirely). They base their beliefs on what their pastor has always said, or what their Grandma always taught them, or what their parents said was the truth. And the buck stops there. What’s good enough for these role models is good enough for this kind of Christian. They don’t question what they’ve been taught. They don’t see the need.

But here’s the problem with that.

Pastor and Grandma and Mom and Dad aren’t necessarily going to be there with this Christian when life gets tough, and if they are there, they can’t choose for this Christian whether or not he or she is going to believe God in the midst of hardship.

When the pain of circumstances makes it hard to breathe and God feels totally absent, other people’s beliefs about God won’t be enough motivation for someone else to retain their beliefs in God. We have to know for ourselves why we can believe that God is sovereign and good and trustworthy even in the most brutal times of our lives.

Similarly, when the temptation to live for self is stronger than an ox, other people’s beliefs about God won’t be enough incentive for someone else to choose to resist temptation. We have to know for ourselves why we believe living life God’s way is ultimately in our best interest and that we have power through the Spirit to resist the pull of wrongdoing.

This building our own faith upon the faith of others rather than upon the Bible itself happens. A lot. And it can have disastrous effects.

A kid that “witnessed” to me in high school got so frustrated with my refusal to believe in God that he literally threw his hands up and yelled, “JUST BELIEVE JUST IN CASE!” And then he went to college. And denounced God. He never knew why he believed what he believed growing up.

We can’t coast through life hoping that so-and-so’s beliefs about God are both right and will be all we need to make it through trials and tribulations. They might not be accurate, and, at some point or another, they probably won’t be enough to get us through trying times. If our faith is based on someone else’s faith, we are setting ourselves up for a huge spiritual fall.

I’m also concerned for Christians that don’t know why they believe what they believe and are okay with that because they aren’t equipped to share their faith, which means they probably aren’t. And that’s the whole reason we are on this earth – to go and make disciples! If we aren’t doing that, we are blatantly disobeying a command given to us by Jesus in the Bible (Matthew 28:19-20), and we are missing the whole big picture of Christianity! The Gospel is good news – too good not to share – and it is essential news – too essential not to share.

But how can we share our faith if we don’t even know why we believe what we believe? From personal experience, I guarantee you no one will accept Jesus because you tell them, “My pastor says Jesus is the only way to Heaven, and I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible somewhere.”

When we share our faith, we have to be prepared for people to ask questions, namely, “Why?” Why should they believe what you are saying is true? Why should they trust the Bible? Why is Christianity any different or better than any other religion? Why do you think Jesus was God? Why do you believe in a God at all? Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?

Believers, it’s time to know why. For you. For others.  

The Best Approach to Apologetics

Before I became a Christian, I realized something pretty quickly about the teenagers in my public high school who believed in God: they had no idea why they believed what they believed. They couldn’t give me much of a reason to trust their belief system over mine.

As an atheist I was skeptical at best and antagonistic at worst of any belief in a God I could not see nor “prove”, properly. I had no more reason to base my spiritual beliefs on the Bible than on The Catcher in the Rye (which spoke to me on so many levels). And the kids I “debated” religion with in school couldn’t give me a reason to trust the Bible. The “best” case I got for believing in God from my classmates was, “Just believe in God just in case!” That guy no longer identifies himself as a Christian.

Well, as He is wont to do, God got a hold of me anyway. I became a Christian at 16 in part because of the incredible love a certain group of students showed me despite my not fitting into the southern kid box, and in part because of the Lord arranging circumstances to show me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not do life without Him.

Combine my experience with the unarmed Christian kids who could not communicate a reason for why they subscribed to a belief in Christ with my personality, and once I gave in and admitted that God was God (plagiarized from C.S. Lewis), I vowed to know why I believed what I believed.

I began devouring the Bible, asking questions about nearly every verse, dissecting doctrines with people who were highly intelligent and who knew how “to give an answer to everyone who asks [them] to give the reason for the hope that [they] have, ” (1 Peter 3:5).

This whole concept of defending your beliefs is called apologetics. Seminaries offer courses on apologetics, there are countless books written about apologetics, and people make careers out of being apologists.

All those are great things. I’ve grown in my ability to defend the faith through each of those avenues. They have been invaluable to me, and if you haven’t explored them, I invite you to.

But can I tell you the best apologetical training I’ve had? 

Talking to little kids. 

My children have been the best training ground for me. They have real questions, and they need simple answers. And their favorite question is, “Why?”

Can I suggest adults are the same way?

They have real questions, and they need simple answers. And their favorite question is, “Why?”

When we talk to young children (2-10 yrs old), we are forced to answer the question, “Why do we believe what we believe,” and we are challenged to deconstruct churchy terms into words everyone can understand. And that’s what church people need too. And that’s what unbelieving adults need too.

If you want to develop your apologetical muscle, find a kid and explain their need for Jesus to them. You’ll have to do it in words with no more than 2 syllables, and you’ll have to do it in a way that doesn’t scare the hell out of them (literally), which, by the way, ought to be our approach with adults too – hellfire and brimstone tactics should not be our approach with anybody. Ever. For any reason.

There are some great perks of practicing sharing the Gospel with kids.

First of all, they have a natural disposition to believe. They don’t have hard, skeptical hearts because they haven’t experienced all the hurt the world has to offer yet. So they are fully open to what you have to say. Give them a halfway decent explanation, and they will accept it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ve fumbled through many a conversations with my girls between ages 2 and 7, and they are okay with that. You are learning, and so are they.

Secondly, whatever you say won’t change how they feel about you. We are hesitant to talk Jesus with adults because we fear rejection. Kids don’t know the meaning of the word. Even if they think you are pretty well out of your mind, they’ll drop the topic as soon as you’re done talking and ask you to go play outside with them. You’re still their friend. Nothing changes that. Some of the sweetest times for me talking to my daughters about faith have gone something like this: I speak some profound truth of Christianity, my daughter responds, “Huh. That’s funny. Want to play Candy Land?” This is NOT a parenting fail. This is evidence of her full acceptance of me even when she doesn’t understand anything I’ve just said. This is a reflection of God’s unconditional love for me through my little girl. I’ll take it.

Thirdly, and most importantly, they might receive Christ! And even if they don’t, their little minds will continue to think on the things you’ve said, and they will bring the topic back up if they think of a question… even years down the road. Our daughters both prayed to receive Christ when they were 2 years old. I was with them, and I believe as fully as they could understand at that age, they understood what they were doing. We’ve continued to explain the Gospel to them in the years since, and last night my seven year old asked, “Mommy, have I asked Jesus into my heart?” She had continued to ponder what that means, and she was bothered that she didn’t remember doing that at age two. So we talked it through, and she prayed again. They remember things, these little people. They mull them over and bring them back up when you least expect it. So our “practicing” sharing Christ with them is more than just a convenient training ground for us – it’s much more. It’s “planting seeds” in their hearts for the Lord to grow.

Sharing our faith with children grows us just as much as it grows them. Give it a whirl, and let me know how it goes.

Next Class: Evangelism without Confrontation

The majority of Christians understand that we have a responsibility to share the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ with others (Matthew 28:19).

But we don’t do it. 

For a lot of reasons.

In part, we just don’t care enough about others’ salvations. We’re caught up in our own lives and don’t make sharing the Gospel a priority.

We also tend not to share the Gospel because we feel ill-equipped to do so. We haven’t had any formal training, we haven’t memorized any special verses, and if someone asks us a question we don’t know the answer to, we’ll feel mortified.

Some of us also fear that if we talk about Jesus we’ll come across as narrow-minded or judgmental. We don’t want to lose respect in others’ eyes, and we really don’t want to lose relationships with people because we broached the taboo subject of religion.

The good news is we can rectify all of these concerns and get on with our God-mandated duty to tell others about Jesus. 

Beginning March 19th I am teaching a 6-week course that will show you how to evangelize without confrontation by using a non-threatening, question-based approach to witnessing. We will learn the benefits of a question-based approach, what questions and scriptures to use while witnessing, and I will share some stories of how I have seen this method used effectively.

Hope you can join me!

 

This course is open to women and is free of charge. Childcare is provided. Please register online ahead of time if you can.

Give Jesus

On the hard days – the days I want to walk away from all this faith stuff – I put one foot in front of the other and walk anyway…

I drive past the shotgun houses – every other one boarded up – and a man drinking a 40 at 9 AM on a Tuesday. I pray aloud, “May salvation come today in the name of the Lord.” I repeat the mantra over and over, asking it to be so, as I make my way to the biggest abortion clinic in the city – my city – the city with a violent crime rate four times the national average.

Death is there, behind those cinder block walls. The killing of babies and the attempted murder of mothers’ consciences… the former happens, day in and day out, but the latter is never completely successful…

I raise my hand toward the building full of women who need His love in the worst way. I pray they would get it…

I park my car across the street and breathe a desperate prayer. “Lord, inspire those women in that death factory to choose life – physical life for their unborn babies, and spiritual life for themselves.”

I get out of my car and walk into a different building – one that houses an organization that applauds life. I get in the elevator, push the number 5, and mumble to the Lord, “Be here today.”

I feel like I have nothing to give most Tuesdays. But that’s not true. I have precisely what my clients need most – Jesus. My heart may be in a thousand pieces, and my life may be in a thousand more, but I have Jesus, and He makes all the difference.

The elevator dings, doors slide open, and I make my way to the pregnancy medical clinic where I volunteer each week. The warm decor and even warmer people leave the false impression that this is just another doctor’s office. No. This is a battlefield.

God and Satan are in full out war over the souls of every potential mother that walks through our doors.

Truth be told, it’s not just our clients that find themselves in the middle of a tug of war that promises to rip their arms clean off. The staff is under attack as well.

They told me it’d be like this when I went through orientation a year ago. The stakes are too high for Satan to let a pro-life organization save lives unchallenged. Maybe that’s why every Monday my life seems to fall apart? Because Satan knows what I intend to do on Tuesday?

Give Jesus

I clip on my magnetic name tag, “Kelly, Client Advocate”. I walk to the room in which fearful, hopeless women will soon come, one by one, telling me their stories of how they wound up with an unplanned pregnancy.

I ask Him once more, “Lord, be here. Show me what to say, when to say it, and how to say it so each woman who comes through this door leaves with the hope that You love them and will be their ever present help in times of trouble.”

And week after week, when I give all I can give – when I give Jesus – the Lord blesses. 

Clients respond to Him, yes. Their openness to hearing the Gospel can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

But His blessing doesn’t end there… He blesses me too.

That He would use the likes of me to spread His message of love and redemption? It’s too good.

That He would allow me to be present in moments when clients choose to receive His work on the cross? It’s too good.

That He would give me a front row seat to witness the Kingdom overcoming the darkness – in clients’ lives, in my life? It’s too good!

Find a place to give Jesus. Wherever you are, give Jesus, yes, but also be intentional about going to where He’s unknown and give Jesus there, too. I’m telling you, He will bless you in the process.