I want God; not my idea of God. C.S. Lewis
My god doesn’t …
I don’t believe in a god who …
How many times have we heard this?
I ask you, if God is God; if He made everything, everywhere, including us, then what does it matter what we think of Him? All these quippy little assertions are at base the expression of an underlying belief that God is the clay and we are the potter. They lead directly to what George Barna jokingly described as a nation of “310 million people with 310 million religious expressions.”
I believe this is the root of the “I don’t believe in religion; I believe in Jesus” phenomenon. If you can subtract Jesus from 2,000 years of Christian teaching, why then, you can create a Jesus who fits you and your prejudices, your wannabes, and your wannados right down to the ground. You can create a phony, basically useless Jesus who doesn’t demand conversion, never asks for repentance and would not think of chiding you for your “understandable” little sins.
You can create your own personal feel-good Jesus, who inevitably will be a Jesus without the cross. The only problem with that, of course, is that this jesus is not god. He is not Christ. Jesus without the cross is not Christ. Jesus without the cross was a First Century itinerate preacher and miracle worker who died 2,000 years ago. He’s the shorn and nonsensical little nothing that the film-flammers who attack Christianity try to make Him out to be.
Dietrich Bonnhoefner had a phrase for this. He called it “cheap grace.” Here’s what he said:
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is 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, living and incarnate.”
The Christian culture in which so many of us live is a sham and a flam, a product of cheap grace gone wild that is drummed into our minds by the steady beat of media promotion. Today, we not only have cheap grace, we have competing cheap graces whose followers are focused on defeating one another in the culture wars rather than following Christ.
We have the cheap grace purveyors of the right who tell us that all that stuff Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, and indeed, throughout the Gospels, doesn’t mean what it so plainly says. They create a morality-free zone surrounding anything to do with business and commerce, exempting the most egregious assaults on the common good from any application of 2,000 years of Christian teaching.
Then, on the other side of the cultural divide, we have the cheap gracers who proclaim that any standards of personal morality are in fact violations of personal freedom and assaults on tolerance and love. They carry this to the point that simple disagreement with such actions as abortion, serial marriage, same-sex marriage, and the commodification and sexualization of women and children is attacked and labeled “hate,” “homophobia,” and, bizarre as this sounds, sexism.
These competing versions of cheap-grace, god-made-in-my-image faux christianity have become the public face of Christian teaching. Their followers attack one another with a ruthlessness worthy of Caiaphas, and a pragmatic amorality that would be the pride of Machiavelli. Their total lack of respect for Jesus Christ and the Gospels is only equaled by their pretentious self-righteousness.
These are mean people. They are mean with the meanness that any thinking person would expect of someone who has turned their back on Christ in order to twist His message into a club to beat their political opponents with.
Why they do it is obvious: To gain power, fame and money.
How they manage to succeed at it is more subtle. Anyone who honestly read the New Testament would pick up on the fact that what these people are giving us is the stone, not the bread; a snake rather than a fish. Yet millions upon millions of “Bible believing” Christians not only fall for this crass twisting of the Gospels in the name of self-justification, they abandon the real Gospels to follow and teach it themselves.
Are they that stupid? Can’t they read the Bible for themselves and see that these are lies?
I think the answer rests in the fact that they can read the Bible; they just don’t like what it says.
The story of the Gospels is not built around some “follow me and I’ll make you into little Ceasars” sort of promise. It is in fact quite the opposite. When Satan tempted Jesus, he offered Him all the kingdoms of this world and Jesus turned him down. What Jesus did instead was set Himself on the path that led to the cross.
These sham teachers of phony gospels of their own devising are offering us the same deal that Satan offered Jesus. The difference being that many of us are taking the deal. Follow them, and you can have any kind of sex you want with whomever you chose. Follow them and you can kill your own children, reduce other human beings to things to be destroyed for your pleasure and feel holier than thou for doing it.
Set your foot on the broad and smooth path of the phony jesus these liars give us and you can lie, steal, cheat, hoard, destroy whole economies for your personal gain. You can push most of the world into death-dealing poverty and back it up with armies you supply from your factories and go to church on Sunday and be honored as great people of a phony god.
Wide is the way that leads to perdition, and it seems that in today’s world it is most often paved by the self-righteous hypocrisy of following false gods of our own creation that we have cast in our own image.
Bonnhoefner also talked about another kind of grace. He called it “costly grace.” I tend to call it “real grace,” but that’s just me and my simple-minded way of looking at things.
Here is part of what he said:
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and 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.
Cheap grace is a sham and a phony. It is a lie we tell ourselves. Costly grace, the grace that comes from following Jesus even if it’s unpopular, even if it means picking up your cross and following after Him, is what can and will heal our culture and save our world.
According to a survey conducted by the Barna Institute, America is drifting more and more toward the cheap grace of God Made in Our Image; the ultra personal god who follows our teachings instead of asking us to follow his.
God made in our image will never ask us to do anything costly. He will always understand our transparent justifications, even of the most heinous crimes. What he can never do is cleanse us, re-orient us and change us into what we were meant to be when God first made us. What we will never see by following him is eternal life. There is no redemption in making an idol out of yourself, in worshipping a self-made, all-agreeing comfortable little kitchen god that you create out of your longing to never be wrong, never sacrifice, never make a tough choice.
Only God, the real God, can redeem us, make us new and lead us into life everlasting. The price of following Him is the same now as it has always been. It is the costly grace of the cross.