This semester at CSF we are going through Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus. Last night we spoke about how we are liberated from the bondage of sin so that we are enabled to live, by the strength of the Holy Spirit, lives of radical, counter-cultural discipleship.
Studies have shown that the religion of young people in American culture is Moral Therapeutic Deism. The majority of you people believe there is a “God”. They stop there, believing that on this point all religions more or less agree and that is really all that matters. This God does not really interact with us much (hence “deism”). Religion is just about ethics, being a good person, which again is where all religions, more or less, agree. Finally, the purpose of religion is to make you feel good about yourself (therapeutic). If God is watching he pretty much likes what you like and approves of anything you do.
When we read the stories of Jesus, this whole idea is shredded. We are reminded that you are not saved by simply believing in God (that makes you a theist or a deist). Salvation, healing, freedom – these things come in the grace of Jesus Christ. We believe not in an abstract “God” but in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. As God walking among humanity, when Christians speak of God we start with Jesus Christ.
This is counter-cultural to the idea that focuses on some sort of God that all religions believe in. It also goes counter-cultural to the idea that this God favors America and wants us to be happy and healthy and live comfortable lives. Such a God is far from the God that we see in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is king of a kingdom that encompasses the entire world and as Christians our first allegiance is to Jesus Christ.
We are often tempted to put our trust in lesser kingdoms. I believe it is perfectly okay to be patriotic, to fly American flags, to care about what goes on in our country and to join the military. But the challenge we face is that physical nations throughout history have always demanded our ultimate allegiance.
This was a choice the German Christians faced in the 1930s. With the rise of Hitler many churches in Germany believed that God was moving, restoring the German people to a place of supremacy. A minority of German Christians (“The Confessing Church”) stood against the extreme nationalism and subordination of the church to the state. In 1934 they drafted the Barmen Declaration. It was mostly written by theologian Karl Barth. In it they affirmed the supremacy of Christ. Here are a few excerpts:
- We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.
- We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.
- We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
- We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.
Another of the writers of the Barmen Declaration was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of the amazing book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer, going against his pacifist commitments, would later take part in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. The attempt failed and Bonhoeffer was executed. Early in The Cost of Discipleship he contrasted what he calls “Cheap Grace” with “Costly Grace”:
“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…Cheap grace means the justification of the 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 not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of 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, 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 sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy 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…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 it is grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son…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” (Bonhoeffer, 43-45).
May we be people radically committed to Jesus Christ above all other things and be transformed to living counter-cultural lives as we follow him.