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Friday, January 06, 2006

Grace II - Costly Grace Kept and Yet Lost

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God: it has to be protected from the world, 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."

On two separate occasions Peter received the call, "Follow me." It was the first and the last word Jesus spoke to his disciple (Mark 1:17 & John 21:22). A whole life lies between these two calls. The first occasion was by the lake of Gennesareth, when Peter left his nets and his craft and followed Jesus at his word. The second occasion is when the Risen Lord finds him back again at his old trade. One again it is by the lake of Gennesareth, and once again the call is : "Follow me." Between the two calls lies a whole life of discipleship in the following of Christ. Half-way between them comes Peter's confession, when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God. Three times Peter hears the same proclamation that Christ is his Lord and God - at the beginning, at the end, and at Caesarea Phillipi. Each time it is the same grace of Christ which calls him to "Follow me" and which reveals itself to him in his confession of the Son of God. Three times on Peter's way did grace arrest him, the one grace proclaimed in three different ways.

This grace was certainly not self-bestowed. It was the grace of Christ himself, now prevailing upon the disciple to leave all and follow him, now working in him that confession which to the world must sound like the ultimate blasphemy, now inviting Peter to the supreme fellowship of martyrdom for the Lord he had denied, and thereby forgiving him all his sins. In the life of Peter grace and discipleship are inseparable. He had received the grace which costs.

As Christianity spread, and the Church became more secularized, this realization of the costliness of grace gradually faded. The world was Christianized, and grace became common property. It was to be had at low cost. Yet the Church of Rome did not altogether lose the earlier vision. It is highly significant that the Church was astute enough to find room for the monastic movement, and to prevent it from lapsing into schism. Here on the outer fringe of the church was a place where the older vision was kept alive. Here men remembered that grace costs, that grace means following Christ. Here they left all they had for Christ's sake, and endeavored daily to practise his rigorous commands. Thus monasticism became a living protest against the secularization of Christianity and the cheapening of grace. But the church was wise to tolerate this protest, and to prevent it from developing to its logical conclusion. It thus succeeded in relativizing it, even using it to justify the secularization of its own life. Monasticism was represented as an individual achievement which the mass of the laity could not be expected to emulate. By thus limiting the application of the commandments of Jesus to a restricted group of specialists, the Church evolved the fatal conception of the double standard - a maximum and a minimum standard of Christian obedience. Whenever the Church was accused of being to secularized, it could always point to monasticism as an opportunity of living a higher life within the fold, and thus justify the other possibility of a lower standard of life for others. And so we get the paradoxical result that monasticism, whose mission was to preserve in the Church of Rome the primitive Christian realization of the costliness of grace, afforded conclusive justification for the secularization of the Church. By and large, the fatal error of monasticism lay not so much in its rigorism (though even here there was a good deal of misunderstanding of the precise content of the will of Jesus) as in the extent to which it departed from genuine Christianity by setting up itself as the individual achievement of a select few, and so claiming a special merit on its own.

Thus true grace, costly grace, was preserved in monasticism, yet it was lost to the masses of humanity and those seeking Christ, who were instead presented with a grace that cost little more than apparent conformation to the sacramental rules.

To be continued...

3 Comments:

  • Check out a post I had in Aug 2005 regarding cheap grace. I would love to hear your comments.

    By Blogger Inheritor of Heaven, at 1/06/2006 01:35:00 PM  

  • Hammer,

    This installment (as well as the first) is a beautiful pastoral exhortation that puts grace into perspective. That having been said, I’d like to highlight another aspect of grace (forgive me if I’m preempting your next post).

    You mentioned the monastic “misunderstanding of the precise content of the will of Jesus” and that it created (in a sense) “a special merit on its own”; but you then assert that “true grace, costly grace, was preserved in monasticism”.

    The apostle Paul was keenly aware of the value of grace (e.g. “chief among sinners”). Moreover, he was the primary vessel through which the “message of grace” was delivered (his epistle to the Galatians being a prime example). So, when thinking of grace, Paul’s insights (so to speak) are very helpful. For instance, Romans 7:13-25 reads in part: …”For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice… But the resolution of the problem of inherent sin is articulated in the very next chapter: Romans 8:18-30 …”the Spirit also helps in our weaknessess. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession…He makes intercesion for the saints according to the will of God…And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

    In light of that, I would argue that any attempt to cultivate “piety”—from one’s own resources—is a fool’s errand. Furthermore, the manastic milieu, however well-intentioned, was/is a misguided endeavor, in that it portends a piousness that is not only unachievable, but also not expected. You see, justification is instantaneous, whereas sanctification is a life-long process; and the latter is meticulously directed by the Spirit Himself, to the ultimate glory of God.

    Lastly, I agree that grace is costly…with one caveat: grace is priceless. Grace cannot be earned, purchased or merited. Grace is the free gift of God; a gift that is given at His discretion, in addition to being withheld at His discretion. Thankfully, those to whom grace is given have the benefit of the Spirit’s guidance (read that: proactive, soveriegn determinism), which ensures that God’s will shall be accomplished, despite man’s frailty and imperfection. Now, don’t misunderstand my point; I’m not suggesting that grace facilitates carnality with impunity. To the contrary…paraphrasing Paul: should one sin so that grace may abound? Certainly not! But the disinclination to sin (such as it is) is wholly attributable of the work of the Spirit through regeneration and santification; it is not something that is intrinsic to human nature, which is why we’ll eventually be free from the ‘flesh’ and live eternally with the purity befitting the Bride of Christ.

    By Blogger Robert, at 1/09/2006 12:40:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    I agree with your entire comment. The message of grace was kept and also lost in the monastic movement for the precise reasons you mention. I think highly of my monastic bretheren, and assume that their external piety is truly a result of the Spirit's working in their lives, and that they know it is.

    I would present that the message of costly grace vs cheap grace is this - if we cannot see what it cost you, then you did not receive it. That is, if there are no demonstrable results to accompany the alleged faith, then grace has not been given.

    I'll have a separate series on grace, free will, and sovereignity. The purpose of this series is to highlight real grace versus cheap grace - which is no grace at all.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 1/10/2006 12:27:00 PM  

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