30 Sep Cheap Grace vs Gospel Transformation
How do our lives as Christians reflect the awe inspiring gift of the gospel? Do we simply say that we are grateful when it comes up in a conversation or do we “give God the glory” in a rehearsed prayer before a meal? Do we think we are Christians because we go to a church building every Sunday? Or, is our claimed reverence to God expressed in how we live day to day? Can others see the Holy Spirit in us as they observe how we live out our lives? Do we even understand that we have been bought by Christ’s blood and what that should mean to those of us who claim to be saved? Do our lives and attitudes as Christians reflect the fact we have been saved by God’s grace? Or do we rest in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” in his book The Cost of Discipleship? When we cling to cheap grace we are claiming to be born again, yet our lives look no different than they did pre-Christ. Living in cheap grace is the outcome of not understanding how profound the gospel is. If we don’t live our lives rooted in gospel transformation, which leads to bearing fruit, then we need to ask whether we know Jesus or just know about Jesus.
Transparency and self reflection is key if we are truly going to answer these questions. No amount of excuses or self deception will help us live out our lives the way our Father calls us to live them, or lead to a genuine relationship with Christ. Many of us live our lives, subconsciously believing that we will go to heaven because we are “good.” Even those of us who call ourselves Christ followers will subconsciously at times believe the lie that we are “good people,” forgetting that the heart of our faith contradicts this foolish notion. We inherently are most certainly not “good people” and our faith makes us no “better” than anyone else, neither in the faith or out of it. Our depravity is the core of our need for a savior and no matter how far along we are in the process of sanctification, that fact will never change. If we would pray and meditate over this reality more than we think about our own selfish ambitions, we would have a greater vision for God’s plan for us and realize that our ambitions don’t matter in light of eternity. Philippians 2:3 says “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Notice that Paul says to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. In other words, there are no circumstances where our ambition is more important than God’s. Our plans mean nothing unless they are acted on out of a heart that is focused on bringing glory to God and not ourselves. We must rely fully on God to kill our selfishness because outside of Him, acting unselfishly is simply behavior modification. If the desired end result of our ambition is our own pleasure and not the glorification of God, than our efforts will be flesh driven rather than focused on eternity.
If we serve others the way the world tells us to, it would be self centered because the end goal of serving people outside of God’s design is to “feel good.” Yes, it feels good to serve others; but we are ultimately serving ourselves if we do it because it feels good. We use and abuse sex, food, and alcohol outside of God’s design for these created things in an effort to make ourselves feel good. We distort these good gifts from our creator and turn them into idols, which will ultimately never satisfy us the way the one who created them can. The same thing happens when we serve others to bring joy to ourselves. The perceived “selfless” act becomes a selfish one if the desired effect is to have a more positive outlook on our own moral standing. Anyone, by their own will, can act morally superior to others. The end result of that is exhausting and it leads to either crushing defeat or self righteousness. Crushing defeat occurs when we realize that we can’t measure up to a moral standard and exhaust ourselves from trying. Self righteousness occurs when we live under the delusion that we are good and moral, at least more moral than our neighbor, coworker, sibling, etc. Neither one leads to a true relationship with God. No amount of moralism can save us or make us have right standing before God. Moralism leads us to believe the lie that our lives are different post Christ because we not only do “good things,” but that we also stopped doing “bad things” when we got saved. The Christian life is not a life of keeping score. We don’t go to heaven if we do more good things than bad things in this life. That is a childish and incorrect reduction of the faith and that notion is in no way exposited from the word of God. The only thing that accomplishes the goal to stand righteously before God is to realize what Christ has already accomplished by willingly taking on the wrath of God for all of the sins committed by all of mankind by being murdered on a cross. Let us not ever forget that it is my sin and it is your sin that held Him up on that cross. That even our selfish “selfless” acts of kindness contributed to our sinless savior’s torturous human death. No amount of moralism will get us right with God. It doesn’t matter how long our lists of good deeds are. To know Christ is to be saved, and not because of anything we have done to earn salvation. That is what makes God’s grace so beautiful. It’s free. That is what separates Christianity from every other religion. There is nothing to earn because Christ paid it all.
To be saved is to be rescued from eternal separation from God. Our lives as saved people should reflect our belief that we have literally been rescued from a literal hell. There should be radical and evident transformation in the lives of all of us who claim to know that we once were damned, but have since been rescued; and not because of anything we have done. Christians have nothing to be arrogant about because we didn’t do anything to be saved. If we are to boast, it should only be in our gracious Father and how the death of Christ has transformed us. We, as Christ followers, shouldn’t be pursuing the comforts of the flesh because that is not what God calls us to. Suffering for the sake of the gospel shouldn’t be looked at as burdensome, but rather the obvious outcome in our lives in light of our salvation. We, as Christ followers, should be overjoyed that we get to share in the sufferings of Christ. We haven’t been called by Jesus to live for ourselves, but rather die to ourselves with reckless abandon and fearlessness for the sake of the gospel. Pastor and author David Platt puts it like this, “The Christian life is a life of surrender. Our life is His to spend however He wants; we surrender everything. … The life of a Christ-follower is a daily death, a daily death to self.” We don’t live righteously to get saved, we live righteously because we’ve been saved.
Arguably the greatest testament to a gospel transformed life in the entire word of God is the life of Paul. Before becoming known as Paul, Saul of Tarsus (a Pharisee, who were amongst the Jewish religious elite), spent his days living for his own glory and thought that that his rule keeping, praying, and knowledge of God would save him by earning his place of right standing before God. His self righteousness was so out of control that it led to his thinking that the followers of “The Way” (new testament title given to describe the lives of Christians), had to be exterminated because they were worshipping Christ instead of following strict Jewish customs and traditions. He took part in the assassination of early Christians and all in the name of religion, that is, earning his right standing before God. Ironically, the very people he was attempting to murder would soon be his closest allies. The gospel of Jesus that Saul was aggressively seeking to kill would eventually become the cause that he would be martyred for as the apostle Paul. Paul was saved from the lie that religion tells us. That we can earn God’s love and that our actions are what will make us righteous. Paul understood that when he was converted on the way to Damascus to persecute and kill more Christians, his life was no longer his own. He; very quickly, and while suffering from temporary blindness, knew that he was dead in his old way of life. He had tasted life outside of God’s grace. He lived his life pre-Christ by his own rules, trying to earn his salvation by his own merit. His life post-Christ was driven by the good news that only Christ can offer. Paul didn’t set out to be the greatest missionary that ever lived, but because he understood that the call to be a Christian is a call to death of self, that is exactly what he became. God used Paul in remarkable ways to fulfill His grand mission and Paul was willing to give everything, including his life, for the sake of the gospel. Paul didn’t start doing “good” things post conversion to get saved, he did good things because he knew he had been saved.
If you realize the gift that you have been given in Christ, my prayer is that you are aggressively seeking His will for your life as Paul did. My prayer for you is that you lay down all of the temporary comforts that you may be clinging to in this life, and let Him kill the desires and idols in your life that are keeping your eyes off of eternity. Please pray that I don’t believe the lie that created things will bring me more joy than the creator will. Let’s pray together for everyone in the body of Christ who are in need of laying their idols at the foot of the cross. In the book of Mark, Jesus said that “no one is good,” and that means all of us, both in and out of the body of Christ. Let’s pray for those who don’t know Christ instead of judging them. Let’s pray for those who claim to know Christ, but nothing about their life reveals Jesus to the world, which should make them question whether or not they truly know Him. We shouldn’t continue to deceive ourselves if we are living in cheap grace. We may be able to deceive ourselves, but we cannot deceive God. When our lives come to an end we will all be face to face with Christ to give an account of our time spent in these physical bodies. In that moment we will hear the Messiah say one of two things: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” or “I never knew you, depart from me.” My sincere and heartfelt prayer is that anyone who thinks that they have a relationship with Christ, but are deceiving themselves, will run from the world and to the cross of Christ. That in deep repentance they will come to truly know the only one who saves and that their life will reveal the glory of God to the world.