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Cheap grace

Who’s our Daddy? 

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Of course no-one’s perfect and we’re all bound for failure in one sense or another, so we are eternally grateful for the provision of repentance and forgiveness. But how conscious are we of every sin we have committed? The big ones tend to screw up the conscience so much that we are forced to act to put things right or at least to acknowledge the situation. But some of the smaller ones may not be picked up by the conscience filter, because we’ve taken our eyes off God or have become so wrapped up in ourselves. These accumulate and can form little mounds of spiritual filth, serving no purpose other than to obscure the face of God in our lives.

For the wages of sin is death ... (Romans 6:23)

If we are honest, how many of us can admit there are some sins we knowingly commit again and again, secure in the knowledge that forgiveness and restoration is available after the act? Is this abuse of the system, invoking the letter of the law but diminishing the incredible provision of grace that God has made available to us at such great cost?

It is the mindset of cheap grace, where God’s free gift to us has become a commodity, the currency of forgiveness, a mechanism that we can unthinkingly and mechanically invoke. If it has just come down to a formula, where we say a prayer of repentance, then instant repentance kicks in and we’re free to sin again, then something’s very wrong.

The German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, called it “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

As I said, it’s a mindset. It’s about relationship with God, not formulae or systems. Otherwise, how different are we from the Jews in the Old Testament, to whom the Psalmist says:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)

It’s the same mindset used by the Catholic church, which has created a complex man-made system dealing with sins, substituting the Hebraic relationship between a believer and their God with a hierarchical Greek system involving confessionals, indulgences, rosaries and pious exercises.

There is a carnality that has crept into the Church that has diminished, even trivialised, the system that God has put in place for us to ensure that we are walking the walk as God has intended. If we were truly living 100% for God, then surely we wouldn’t be looking for loopholes or burying our head in the sand. Instead we would put Him first, always. That is the Hebraic way.

So is there anything we could be doing that we’re not doing now?

Here’s a good place to start.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

We need to be driven by the will of God for our lives, not the pattern imposed on us by the World. Let’s see how some Bible folk did it.

What connected Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses (and his parents), Rahab the prostitute, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the rest of the Old Testament prophets? One word – faith - in God, as described in Hebrews 11.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Each of these people acted at least once in their lives, usually at great cost, in response to a command from an invisible God, whether it was building an ark, leaving a comfortable home or becoming a national leader. Each took a risk, sacrificing pride or comfort or a quiet life for a walk with the invisible Lord God, despite the very real possibility of danger. God was able to do mighty things through these folk and we read and are inspired by their stories, woven as they are into the narrative of Holy Scripture.

The story is much the same in the New Testament. Men put God first, often making the ultimate sacrifice – after the example set by Jesus himself – in order for the Gospel to be preached to all. None of the first apostles lived in comfort and prosperity to a ripe old age; God was the centre of their motivation, not personal ambition or fulfilment.

Then came the Church age and, as explained in my previous book (How the Church lost The Truth), two new factors came into play, both subtly inspired by ideas from Greek philosophy. From the dualism of Plato, dividing up the clergy and laity, the “spiritual” people and the hoi-polloi, came the corruption of State Christianity, with the Church replacing Jesus as the means for salvation, through the rules and regulations of the sacramental system.

As a reaction to this came the Protestant Reformation, emphasising the individual’s own responsibility for his salvation. Although this was a welcome return to Biblical certainties, the Protestants too had their State Churches. They weren’t quite “the new broom sweeping all clean” that many think them to be, because they shared with the Catholics an admiration for Augustine, the Plato-inspired Christian philosopher, who created the theological basis for State Churches. Hence the great hierarchies of the Lutherans, Church of England and others.

But, there was worse to come and this was when the rationalism of the Greek philosopher Aristotle was stirred into the Christian mix by Thomas Aquinas and developed into a kind of Christian humanism that has made inroads into every expression of Protestant and evangelical Christianity right up to the current day. This was a gradual replacing of God with man, as the centre of our Christian life.

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