Theme: Costly Grace
This week’s lessons impress upon us the importance that one cannot be a true Christian without being a genuine disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Luke 5:31, 32
There is a defect, even a fatal defect, in the life of the church of Christ in the present day: a lack of true discipleship. For the genuine Christian, discipleship means forsaking everything to follow Christ. But for many of today’s supposed Christians—perhaps the majority—it is the case that while there is much talk about Christ and even much furious activity that is supposed to be done in His name, there is actually very little following of Christ Himself. And that means that in some circles at least there is very little genuine Christianity. Many who fervently call Him “Lord, Lord” are not Christians (Matthew 7:21). We should not be surprised by this, because Jesus himself said it would be the case. We should only be distressed by it.
In Jesus’ great sermon on the Mount of Olives uttered shortly before His arrest and crucifixion, the Lord compared professing (but unconverted) Christians to women waiting for a bridegroom to appear for a wedding banquet. They were waiting faithfully and cried out fervently to him, but they were unprepared for his coming and therefore were shut out of the wedding. They were not saved. Again, Jesus compared mere professors to a man who was given a talent to invest but who failed to use it and was condemned by his master on the day of reckoning. Jesus said that he was thrown “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30). In a third comparison He described these people as failing to feed the hungry, give drinks to those thirsting, receive strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those who were imprisoned. These apparent Christians called Jesus “Lord.” They considered themselves to be genuinely converted persons. But they were not Christians and so perished utterly.
We need to see where this is true in our churches. We need to ask what it means to be a Christian and whether these shortcomings are fit descriptions of ourselves.
There are several reasons why the situation I have described is common in today’s church, and the first of these is a defective theology that has crept over us like a deadening fog. This theology separates faith from discipleship and grace from obedience. It teaches that Jesus can be received as one’s Savior without His being received as one’s Lord. This defect is a common malady in times of apparent prosperity. In days of hardship, particularly persecution, those who are in the process of becoming Christians count the cost of discipleship carefully before taking up the cross of the Nazarene. Preachers do not beguile them with false promises of an easy life or indulgence of sins.
But in good times, prosperous times, the cost does not seem to be so high, and people take the name of “Christ” without undergoing the radical transformation of life that a true conversion implies. In these times, preachers often delude them with an “easy” faith—Christianity without the cross—dare we say it, in order to increase the numbers on their church rolls, whether or not the people thus added are regenerate.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German churchman of the Nazi era who eventually suffered martyrdom for his opposition to Hitler’s policies, called this erroneous theology “cheap grace.” He said, “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.”1
What does Dr. Boice point out as a fatal defect in the church today?
What is the first reason for why this defect exists? Why is it common during periods of prosperity and ease, but not in periods of hardship?
How would you explain what true discipleship is?
Reflection: In what ways do you see the church’s lack of discipleship?
Key Point: “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” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
1Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1966), p. 47. Original German edition, 1937.