Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Neither cheap, nor costly; it is free

Today was an excellent Theology class. We are studying grace and I want to share a small part of the lecture with you but before I do so, I need to let you know where I am coming from and why this point and aspect of grace impressed me so much. To do so I will have to enlighten you on a portion of my testimony. So if you can bare through me telling part of my story to set up some of the lecture notes, great; if not skip down a few paragraphs for the really good stuff.

I was converted and baptized at a young age. I believe this conversion to be authentic for a number of reasons which I won't take the time to discuss right now, but the evidence of my conversion has not always been easy for observers to see. My middle and high school years were spent at a Christian boarding school where living a legalistic "christian" life was required or else they kicked you out. So while there my faith was never really put to the test. Once I graduated from that oppressive regime I returned to the States to attend Mercer University.

During my time in Georgia I was involved in several relationships which were far from honoring to God and my lifestyle in general did not reflect the grace which I had so freely received at the age of 8. While I occasionally attended church I was insistent on living a life that conformed to my own desires and sin habits. It was not until one lonely Sunday night, sitting in the back of FBC Woodstock listening to Johnny Hunt preach that God really got my attention. A verse from 1 Corinthians 5 really brought me to my knees:
I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality, greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one... Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? Purge the evil person from among you.
As I sat in the back of that church listening to Hunt preach and reading these words it hit me that I was doing almost everything on this list and yet I called myself a Christian. According to Scripture I did not even deserve to be at the dinner table with believers. Not only should practicing Christians not eat with me they should totally remove me from the church. I was washed over in a flood of guilt and shame for the way I was living my life. I repented and recommitted myself to living for the one who had redeemed me. A week or so later I applied to Columbia International University where I eventually graduated with a Bachelors in Bible and Intercultural Studies. I have sinned plenty since that night at FBC Woodstock but by God's grace I have not fallen into a pattern or habit of sin. When I do wrong God is always quick to convict me and by His grace I will continue to respond with confession and repentance.

I let you in on this portion of my life to set up what I believe to be a very powerful few paragraphs on grace. Within my own circle of family and friends I know people who are living lives similar to mine before that night in Woodstock. The Southern Baptist Convention claims 16 million members but less than half of them are in church on Sunday. This is an epidemic problem which I hope these words from Dr. Hammett help us to deal with:

Grace is neither cheap, nor costly; it is free (Rev 22:17; Ro 6:23). Inherent in the idea of being a gift that cannot be earned is the idea of free grace.

One error people often make is concluding that because merit is irrelevant to grace one can receive grace and live as he pleases. This is the heresy of cheap grace, which Paul had to combat as early as Ro 6:1-2. Another version of this heresy sees faith as the price of grace; that faith earns or purchases grace; then, again, after one receives grace, he is free to live as he pleases.

The reason why free grace does not lead to cheap grace is because authentic grace does not simply pardon one's past sins, it transforms one's present and future actions and motives. One who claims to receive God's grace but has no change in desires and attitudes is deceived. They tried to obtain cheap grace but it does not exist. The genuine grace of God teaches us to live holy lives. Titus 2:11-14.

Neither is grace costly grace. It cost Christ his life to turn away God's wrath, but for us it is free. There is nothing we must do to receive or continue in God's grace. It is a free gift.

Thus to those who ask, "how much must I do to please God?" we respond, "everything and nothing." To those who want to buy grace cheaply at the price of a purely mental faith, we respond that faith involves placing all one is in the hands of another; it involves everything. To those who fear that they must clean themselves up to receive grace, and keep clean to continue in grace, we respond that God's grace is not for sale. It may be bought neither at the cheap price of a dead, purely intellectual faith, nor at the costly price of a holy, self-denying life. It cannot be bought, but only received as a life-changing gift, that inevitably leads to gratitude and a desire to express gratitude in a life of obedience.

1 comment:

Michelle (and Shannon) said...

Hey you can get to my ever-so-boring blog. I have recipes on it too...there's a link on the right side. Good to see you last night!