Expensive Grace and Earned Discipleship

During the season of Lent it’s become a tradition among many Christians to give up something they enjoy, such as chocolate, television, or coffee. They do so in an attempt to remember the suffering of our Lord and Savior and to follow him in self-denial. Indeed, it is good and fitting that we count the cost of discipleship. The gospel writer Luke is particularly intent on getting his readers to consider that cost. So here is the question of the season:

Have you given up everything to follow Jesus Christ?

Vain Discipleship

For much of my adult life as Christian, my own answer had been “No, I haven’t.” You see, I felt that I had not suffered for the sake of the Lord enough, obeyed his commandments enough, or sacrificed myself enough. As a result, I experienced a sense of shame and guilt, making me feel like an unworthy servant. I did not measure up to the expectations Christ had set before me—or so I was convinced.

There can be no mistake about the call and the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples,” says Jesus in Luke 14:33. The journey of the disciple, therefore, should be marked with self-denial and sacrifice. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured this truth in his book The Cost of Discipleship: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Jesus raises the bar even higher by demanding of us, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

At first glance many people find this confusing. Isn’t this the same Jesus whose life and message have been about loving God and loving neighbors? What does he mean by hating others? What Jesus is saying is this: “You must love me more than the persons that are most precious to you. In fact, you must love me more than yourself.” Loving Jesus above all else is our highest calling and command.

I knew I fell short of that standard. And so I was convinced the cost of following Christ was not high enough in my life. I felt as if my discipleship was not costly enough for the grace of the Lord.

Cheap Grace

Tim was a friend of mine during college. He grew up in the church and was familiar with the Bible and with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But his heart seemed to be far from the Lord. After graduating, he landed a lucrative engineering job with Ford Motor Company. He appeared to be much more interested in making money, driving his Mustang Cobra Jet, having one-night stands with women, and getting drunk on weekends than in loving Jesus. When I would confront him about his pagan lifestyle, he’d candidly and sincerely remind me, “Victor, the grace of Jesus is sufficient for me.” And although his confession was not clothed in any remorse or contrition, he meant it sincerely from his heart.

Years later, I came across these words of Bonhoeffer, who became a martyr during World War II, admonishing his fellow German Christians for not walking the journey of obedience and sacrifice as disciples of Jesus Christ: “We are fighting today for costly grace. 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” (The Cost of Discipleship).

If I was committing the error of “works righteousness,” living the life of an unworthy servant and attempting to gain God’s approval through my own sacrifice and obedience, then Tim was committing the error of “cheapening” the grace of Jesus Christ by living the life of a glutton, drunk, and fornicator. Both of us needed the rich grace of Jesus Christ that gives birth to radical discipleship.

How Grace Works

I now realize the extravagant riches of grace. I had been feeling inadequate and unworthy because I’d assumed that Christ’s grace was not sufficient for my lack of sacrifice and obedience. Then I grasped that Jesus was ultimately talking about himself, his own sacrifice and obedience. Jesus is the only one who gave up everything he had to become a disciple of God. He is the only one who loved his Father in heaven more than his earthly father and mother, his brothers and sisters—yes, even more than his own life. He is the only one who carried his cross to death, obeying perfectly the will of God the Father. And by his extravagant grace, he has not only removed my sins on the cross but also has lavished on me his perfect sonship when he arose from the tomb. Christ’s crucifixion cleansed me of my unrighteousness and his resurrection clothed me with his righteousness. I can add nothing to what Jesus Christ has accomplished for me.

Thanks to be God that Jesus Christ has clothed me with his own sacrifice and self-denial. And having received Jesus’ costly discipleship unto the Father, I am able to pick up my own cross, counting the cost to follow Jesus on the journey of sacrifice and self-denial—not out of guilt or shame but out of gratitude, joy, and freedom.

Just as I needed the grace of Christ to transform me, Tim too stood in desperate need of it. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians that we are saved only by grace. This saving grace indeed changes us into children of God—sons and daughters who truly love the Father and desire to follow Christ on the journey of discipleship, obedience, and trust. Far be it from us that we should trample upon what Christ has done by turning it into a cheap grace: “They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4).

Dallas Willard points out that the Beatitudes are not a set of instructions by which we enter the kingdom of God. Nor are they a formula for living a blessed life. Rather, they are simple and profound descriptions of those who, by the extravagant grace of Christ, live in the power and joy of the kingdom here and now.

Have you given up everything for Christ? Or has Christ given up everything for you so that now you can follow him in his grace?

Web Questions

  1. Many Christians give up something they enjoy for Lent in order to follow Christ in self-denial. Do you give up something for Lent? Why or why not?
  2. Define “cheap grace” and “costly grace” in your own words. Give examples from your own life experience.
  3. What does the “rich grace” of Jesus Christ look like? If Jesus has accomplished all for us, are we off the hook?
  4. How can we best express our love and gratitude for Jesus’ journey of sacrifice and self-denial?
  5. Read the Beatitudes (Matt. 5: 1-12). Where do you see these attributes lived out in our culture?

About the Author

Victor Ko is a church planter with mosaicHouse in Edmonton, Alberta.

See comments (2)

Comments

Well said.  Well written! 

Well said, especially in a generation like mine where we are so hesitant to give up ANYTHING. Grace takes many forms, sometimes its grace to thrive, sometimes it's just grace to survive.

X