Today I get to introduce you to Zack Hunt, a blogger and thinker whose special talent is the ability to make complicated theological concepts approachable for the likes of non-theologians like me. Zack was on my trip to Guatemala and it was a joy to get to know his compassionate, sarcastic, generous nature. I’m grateful to have him here.
There’s an old worn out copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship sitting on my bookshelf. The cover is a faded green, the title a dated font in mustard yellow, and several of the pages are falling out. It’s seen better days, but I wasn’t around to see them. The book was a gift, part of a stack of other books I inherited years ago as a consequence of a debilitating disease I suffer from called I-can’t-say-no-to-free-books-itis.
The book is in such poor shape I don’t think Goodwill would even accept if I tried to donate it. But it doesn’t matter. I could never part with it. Faded cover and falling out pages it’s still one of my prized possessions.
It was one of the first books I ever read that felt like a punch straight to the gut. And it’s one of the only theology books whose sheer beauty has brought me close to tears. Granted, part of that is because I’m a huge theology nerd. But for me the first chapter alone is one of the greatest works of theology in the history of the church especially this passage,
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
I can’t escape those two words – costly grace.
They’ve haunted me ever since I first picked up that book however many years ago and every blog post I write or sermon I preach or faith conversation I have with friends or strangers or classmates is shaped by that one incredible phrase. It’s always there to challenge me and push me and force me to ask tough questions about the things I believe, the words I say, and the life I live.
If being a Christian means doing everything I want to do and not doing anything I don’t want to do, then am I really being a follower of Jesus or a follower of me?
If being a follower of Jesus costs me nothing, and yet Jesus’ life cost him everything, then how can I really claim to be Christ-like?
If my faith is nothing more a list of doctrines I agree with and arguments I have in defense of those doctrines, where’s the grace in that?
Every time I want to reduce the faith to a list of beliefs or strip away all the tough stuff that comes with being a disciple of Jesus and give myself an out from actually being Christ-like, I come back to that last line from Bonhoeffer, “Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
To be completely honest, that last line scares me to death because more often than I’d like to admit I find myself doing anything but incarnating the grace of God to my neighbors and my enemies. Incarnating grace is hard and a lot of times I really suck at it.
But if I’m going to be an authentic follower of Jesus, if I’m really going to be Christ-like then I’ve got to stop just talking about God’s love and grace and hope and healing and mercy and compassion and start incarnating those things in my own life.
God’s grace is costly.
And I don’t deserve it.
Yet God gives it to me anyway, freely and abundantly.
Which is why costly grace is my one good phrase.
It reminds me of just how incredible the gift is that I have been given.
And it challenges me daily to never cheapen that gift by denying others the grace I have been so freely given.
Grace and peace,
Zack is a writer, blogger, and speaker living in Bristol, Connecticut with his wife, Kim. He’s a graduate student studying the history of Christianity at Yale Divinity. He blogs at The American Jesus, and will be releasing his first book, The Scandal of Holiness, in the near future. You can find him on Facebook here or follow him on Twitter.