Psalm 34:9-14, Proverbs 9: 1-14, Ephesians 5: 15-20, John 6: 51-58
I have just started reading a book by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by the Nazis just before the end of the second World War. The book is called “The Cost of Discipleship”. I am not much further forward than the beginning of the second chapter – it is one of those books that you sometimes have to read a page several times to try to understand it properly. And then feel you want to go away and think about what you have read before going on to the next chapter. But it has already had quite a powerful effect on me.
Bonhoeffer is regarded as one of the most significant theologians of the twentieth century and he was certainly one of the bravest. He was very critical of Hitler, the Nazis and the role of the mainstream Church in Germany, which he felt was too compliant with the wishes and pressures of the Nazi party. Putting aside the chance to live safely in England or the USA he returned to Germany to his congregation and was subsequently imprisoned and then killed for what he saw as his genuine and uncompromising Christian witness about the evils of Hitler and his hench people. He stood for Jesus in the face of evil.
One of the principal subjects of the first chapter of Bonhoeffer’s book is the concept of Grace. And what he defined as “cheap Grace” and “costly Grace”. He worried that in the church of his time, and this is perhaps still true today, many people accepted the gift of salvation from God, but felt that nothing else needed to be done. To accept that Christ died for their sins, but then to continue living as they had done before becoming Christians, using the excuse that as they were saved it really did not matter how they lived. They could sin again and again, but were forgiven time after time because they had accepted that Christ had died for them and paid the price for sin. Bonhoeffer felt this disrespectful to God and to Christ. Surely, if one had accepted Christ’s sacrifice one would then want to live out the discipleship of Christ, whatever that might cost. Living one’s everyday life for Christ in worship, prayer and trying not to sin. Making a sacrifice for God as recognition and gratitude for what one had received from God, but also as an example to others that Christians live out their faith in their lives. A faith and a grace which actually cost them something, which they valued. A pearl of great price worthy to give something back for and not just accepting it as a joyful gift without cost.
When I read the Ephesians passage last week, in which Paul admonishes the people of Ephesus to be careful about how they live, to lead decent and Spirit filled lives, giving praise and thanks to God, I felt that this somehow bore out Bonhoeffer’s belief that Christians should prove their faith by making sacrifices for God, not just carrying on their lives as they had before they accepted his promises. Because while Christ saves, he also changes. Without change and devotion, how can we have truly and fully accepted him and be part of him?
Now I turn to another German theologian – Martin Luther. Luther is sometimes misquoted. One of the most famous things he said was “Sin boldly”. This was not an encouragement to sin or an excuse for sinfulness as some people have tried to make it. The full quote is “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.” Luther accepts, as did Paul, that people do sin, despite their best endeavours. “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God”. I know darn well that I have. Luther was saying that we should not deny or try to hide our sins, but admit them readily and then try to live a better life as Christians. Christians whose lives show forth the love we have for Jesus, proving our love for him and thus our attempt to be worthy of the love he has for us – living out the costly grace!
So Paul’s, and perhaps God’s, challenge to us this week is to look at how we live our lives and what we should be changing. To strive to live as better Christians, as Paul called the Ephesians to be. And therefore, to try to be worthy of that costly Grace. Hallelujah Richard Austen