“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2.11-14).
Grace and the Gospel
♦ We stand in grace –
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5.1-2).
♦ We stand in the gospel –
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand… (1 Corinthians 15.1).
♦ We are saved by grace –
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2.8).
♦ We are saved by the gospel –
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15.1-2).
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
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. ‘All for sin could not atone.’…Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin…Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without 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 buy for which the merchant will sell 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 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.
Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 43-54
[Note: I hope you read the whole article in this week’s bulletin. It was taken from a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship and was first published in Nazi Germany in 1937. The author, a young German theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was murdered by the Nazis at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9, 1945, less than two weeks before the camp was liberated by American forces. Though published 78 years ago, the message is exceedingly relevant for our times. More to follow next week – Bill]
The Christians in the New Testament had all been baptized in water. (F.F. Bruce in his commentary on Acts simply says that the New Testament knows nothing about unbaptized Christians.) The church was a baptized community, and their baptism said that they not only believed the truth about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ but that they had committed themselves to Him by faith in being baptized into union with Him.
These people didn’t see it as optional. What’s more, it never entered their heads to ask if they “had” to do it. They wanted to be saved in and through Christ, they were told to be baptized to that end and they did it and went their way rejoicing.
It’s a very modern thing indeed to argue about this matter. I can understand questions being raised about the status of those who are genuinely ignorant about all this, but I confess it’s more than disappointing to hear people, who know what the scriptures plainly say, dither on what they should say about it. Worse, it’s more than disappointing to hear people who know what the scriptures plainly teach on this matter encouraging others not to be baptized as the New Testament teaches.
Baptism in the New Testament was part of the response of faith. It was repentance in action, a response to the holy grace God was extending to the world in Jesus Christ. God by the gospel was calling to Himself an elect community to be His witness to the world that He had not abandoned it in its sin. Those who heard that electing message responded by taking the name of Christ on themselves by being baptized in His name that they would find remission of sins. But it wasn’t just personal forgiveness they were given; it was a place in the Community of the Christ whose death, burial and resurrection they identified as their own.
Baptism then was the response of faith to God’s grace. But it wasn’t a response of faith to God’s grace that the Church came up with; it was the wisdom of the Holy Father and expressed in His holy Son through the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t for people to debate over but to obey. It wasn’t a loveless obedience, which is nothing more than legalism; it was a heartfelt commitment in trust.
Like every other obedient response, baptism was more than a “condition to be met” if people wanted sins forgiven by God’s holy grace in Christ. It was a privilege. And it was seen to be a profound privilege in the New Testament.
Whatever else is true in the case of the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11), the privilege of water baptism is underlined. Here was a man who loved God with all his heart, and it showed in all the ways that we would like to see in ourselves.
The Jewish group went to his house under duress, Peter begins to tell him about the Christ, and God interrupts him by sending the Holy Spirit on the man and his gathered family. Stunned at what has happened, what is Peter’s question? Before us we have a man of whose righteous character God has personally approved and to whom God has exceptionally given the Holy Spirit (Acts 11.15) and what is the apostle’s question – “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water” (Acts 10.47)?
Doesn’t that strike you as odd? One might have thought that loving God as he did was all that was required. If more, then one would have thought that the coming of the Spirit was enough privilege. Peter’s question is in light of those two already existing realities.
What does the question imply? That someone might want to keep it from them and that the two realities mentioned make it clear that Cornelius had the right to water baptism. Some are coming to see the privilege of water baptism as well as the obligation of it while some who should know better are belittling the ordinance. And Peter commanded them (Cornelius and family) to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and so take on them that glorious name (see Acts 2.38 and 22.16).
Water baptism is both required of us and is a privilege granted to us by the Holy Father in His own name and in the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3.5-7
Think for a moment about what happens when you wash a dirty shirt: the water and laundry soap move through the fibers of the shirt material and carry out the dirt lodged within those fibers. When we come to God, our minds and hearts are like that dirty shirt, cluttered with false beliefs and attitudes, deadly feelings, past deeds, misguided plans, and hopes and fears.
The Word of God – primarily the gospel of His kingdom and of the life and death of Jesus on our behalf – enters our mind and brings new life through faith. As we open our entire life to this new power and to those sent by God to minister the word to us, the word moves into every part of our personality, just like water and soap move through the shirt’s fibers. God’s word pushes out and replaces all that is false and opposed to His purposes in creating us and putting us in our unique place on earth.
– Dallas Willard
[Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California and author well known to many Christians for his books on spiritual formation, including The Divine Conspiracy, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and Renovation of the Heart, died May 7, just days after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
His son-in-law posted this excerpt shortly before his death: “No Death…This accounts for Jesus’ numerous indications that, for the godly, death is nothing. Have no fear of those who can only kill the body, he says (Matthew 10.28). We will not even experience death (John 8.51-52) and will, in fact, not die (John 11.26)…Such is the understanding of the New Testament as a whole. Those who live in reliance upon the word and person of Jesus, and know by experience the reality of his kingdom, are always better off ‘dead,’ from the personal point of view…we live in the knowledge that, as Paul elsewhere says, ‘Jesus the Anointed has abolished death and has, through the gospel, made life and immortality obvious’ (2 Timothy 1.10).” The Divine Conspiracy, 393-394]
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
There is nothing about us to warrant such a gift, and we can never be good enough to earn it. Yet in spite of our own frailty and failings God pardons us and saves us from the condemnation of our own sins because He loves us. Moreover, His salvation is universal, freely offered to all. Anyone anywhere can be saved!
But though salvation is universally extended, “whosoever believes” does not mean it is without conditions or restrictions. He offers salvation universally, but He does not save universally. God’s free gift is conditional. He gave His only begotten Son that “whosoever believes in Him.” Paul explains in Ephesians 2.8 that we are saved by the grace of God, working in conjunction with our faith in His ability to save us through Christ Jesus. So in order to avail ourselves of God’s “free” gift we must satisfy the conditions that govern the giving of the gift. The New Testament teaches a person must –
Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 16.16; Romans 10.10).
Repent of his sins (Acts 17.30; 2 Peter 3.9).
Confess his faith in Jesus (Matthew 10.32-33; Acts 8.37).
Be immersed (baptized) for the remission of his sins (Mark 16.16; Acts 2.38; 1 Peter 3.21).
These four conditions preclude salvation. They must be satisfied in order for God to save us. They are not works whereby we earn salvation; though we comply with all these conditions, we still do not merit salvation! But seeing our faith – trusting Him to do what He said He would do when we do what He asks us to do – seeing our conformity to His conditions, He gives us His gracious gift – He saves us.
Quoting a great sinner (David), Paul in Romans 4:7-8 says, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin” (NRSV).
He uses a double negative in 4:8 to stress the non-occurrence. As if, “The Lord simply will not do it!” Imagine someone asking a righteous man or woman to do something that thoroughly lacks integrity, trying repeatedly to get them to agree. Imagine the righteous person closing the matter with a final, “I simply will not do it!” and you have the tone of Romans 4:8. “There’s little point in you trying to persuade me to do this. There is no way that’ll happen.”
What do we have here? We have a sinner whose sin is recognized as precisely that — sin! We have a Lord who simply will not hold that sin against this sinner. No wonder David and Paul call such a person “blessed”!
Who Are These People?
But not everyone is blessed in this way. A blessing of that magnitude belongs to a certain class of persons. Obviously — they’re God’s “pets.” No, God has no “pets.” God is a God of holy grace, and life with Him is a gift of grace. But the kind of life He gives cannot be other than a relationship that takes its direction and shape from His own character. Who are these blessed people? They are people who live in covenant with God and have by faith embraced what “life” with God means.
Within that covenant life and union their sins are not held against them (non-imputation, forgiveness and covering are all equivalent in Romans 4:7-8). This is a relationship of grace between two covenant partners that are not equal. But the relationship doesn’t obliterate our moral weakness or our capacity to sin. God knew and knows that — how could He not know it? He called sinners to His side! It is sinners He makes His companions (Luke 15:1-2).
But they aren’t sinners that actively despise Him and rejoice in the scorn they have for Him. These are convicted, contrite and repentant sinners that in His name seek to glorify God and bless His creation. But sinners just the same! To them, in holy grace God credits no sin.
The Nature of Repentance
But surely they must be repentant. I’ve said so! But repentance is more than a frame of mind we adopt at the moment when we have done something wrong. It is a mindset that God in holy grace has drawn us into when we are committed to Him in covenant relationship. Repentance is an aspect of the relationship we entered, just like the purpose to honor and support our spouse or our friend when we entered the relationship with them. The mindset permeates the relationship. It isn’t an isolated act or thought or emotional response that happens every so often.
It’s impossible to have a true friendship with someone we think we can treat as abominably as we wish anytime we wish. Such a mindset knows nothing of friendship. Friendship has built into it an attitude and purpose toward the other that leads to a certain kind of behavior toward that other. So it is with the friends and companions of God (compare James 4:4).
We are not to think that a Christian commits a sin and their sin hangs over their head until they go through a specific mental and emotional act at which moment God forgives them or decides not to record their sin against them.
We are not to think that the cross of Jesus Christ was to make it easier for us to sin or to make evil appear less evil. Neither are we to live with the spiritual jitters, ceaselessly wondering if, having committed ourselves in faith to God, he is holding our sins over our head as an ever-present threat.
There is no assurance of sins forgiven for those not covenanted with God; that’s what holy grace means. But for those that are in a faith relationship with Him, sins are not credited against them, because that’s what holy friendship means.