Thursday, October 16, 2014

What is “cheap grace”? Part 2

If God were willing to sell His grace, we would accept it more quickly and gladly than when He offers it for nothing.
― Martin Luther

To be offered what God offers is nearly impossible to believe; indeed a great many people seem to find the offer itself insulting, as if it were too demeaning to their character. And they are absolutely right about that! Jesus somewhere teaches that he is not come to call the righteous, meaning that those who insist on maintaining their own righteousness have little need to answer a call to follow Jesus. Those who must maintain the façade of self-righteousness will find no room in their hearts at all for a Savior who will make them righteous. No, if we are to approach God at all, it must be in recognition that he is the Holy One, the one who has shown righteousness to a wrathful world, and that we are in deepest need of imputed righteousness, for next to the Holy One our righteousness is but as a bloody napkin.

After part one of this question on cheap grace, it occurred to me that I have not quite dealt with it as Tozer did, and finding my answer wanting, I took this opportunity to enlarge my answer. Tozer is applying his definition of cheap grace more particularly to the general church than I did. Instead, I focused the first part of my answer on those in the church whom we might best consider as “falling away”. There is a sense in which part of what Tozer saw in the churches of his day is quite true for our day; our churches are filled with dead people who have never really found the inexhaustible riches in Christ that is theirs, if they will but walk with the Spirit.

Of course I think Tozer recognized that the church of his day (he died in 1963) was not at all ready for revival. He pointed to many things that the church ought to be doing, and was constantly praying and nudging the church to lay aside everything else and pick up the cross that is given us. I find myself lamenting the fact that Tozer missed seeing the revival that he and so many others prayed for so faithfully during the fifties and sixties. It was not until 1967 that the Spirit took ahold of unlikely prospects in the hippies of the streets, and was to change the whole nation yet once again, and that through ridiculous street urchins that came to be labeled “Jesus Freaks”. Make no mistake—none of that great awakening could have happened without God’s people praying for the dead in Christ to walk again. Each revival we see is built on nothing less than the lives of earnest Christians who have prayed and worked and sweated great drops of blood to see revival.

To review, Tozer defined cheap grace precisely thus, “We are busy these days proving to the world that they can have all the benefits of the Gospel without any inconvenience to their customary way of life. It's "all this, and heaven too."”1 Part of this is our fault as a church—in our efforts to offer the gospel we have stripped the gospel of all the encumbrances. We offer Christ as Starbucks might offer a flavored coffee, something to tantalize the taste buds, but never to change the life. In most of our churches Christ is offered as something we might decide for, and we seldom consider the God of salvation in the equation at all. Somehow when the new convert is offered Christ the idea that he is offering himself to God is not stressed. That is labeled discipleship and ought to be later, I have often heard. But what if later does not come? I believe that we can and ought to be doing better. A person who accepts Christ ought to come to the realization that Christ has accepted him. To be sure, if the Calvinist is right about anything at all, and he is right about quite a lot, he is surely right in pointing out that it is God who does the electing. It is not our decision at all. Instead it is a patient God who keeps convicting us of his righteousness and our sin. It is a loving God who gave himself for all, that all might be invited to enter into his plan of abundant life. It is an enduring God who is patiently waiting for us to realize the gift that he has given. Yes, we properly believe that faith is the price of salvation, but should not that faith have a focus? Why are we not waiting on God together with the new convert, that he might sense and be awestruck by the presence of the Holy One in his life?

It seems to me that our rapid handling of new converts generally has at least one of two bad outcomes. First, the new believer, not knowing any better, often tries to add to his salvation. Not seeing the complete grace of the Lord, he figures he better start “working for his keep” as the saying goes. Sometimes believers make mistakes in this area that linger for decades. We are saved to good works, but never to think that works merit salvation. A good deal of confusion might be settled were we just to wait on God to visit with his presence, that the convert might come to sense how completely holy God is, and how completely needy he himself is. Instead, we all too frequently pray the sinner’s prayer, and let the convert go his way, without him ever sensing the moment of what happens when a sinner is saved.

Second, if the new convert does not try to add to grace, he will often suffer from never fully realizing his matchless grace. After all, when we show such a short prayer with which to accept Christ, and spend so little time waiting upon the majestic God, what kind of message are we imparting? That accepting Christ might be comparable to that cup of flavored coffee? Something to enjoy for a few seconds, but then we need to get back with the duties of life? I am afraid our methods are not helping us to impart the utter seriousness of what happens when one converts. We are told that all the angels rejoice over even one sinner who repents, but where is the sense of that to the new convert? Somehow we need to seriously rethink what we are doing if we are to expect to see serious believers coming out of a new conversion. Those who criticize “decision theology” have a point; we are seriously leaving God out of the equation. We ought to be somehow allowing God to work, and not just assume that our prayer is instantly answered.

In the great awakenings of America, I have seen across the board a very serious treatment of new believers. In the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards made a habit of praying, often for hours, until the person being dealt with had a sense of God’s presence. Edwards knew that most of his parishioners were not saved, and he knew his God was loving. He sensed that the two needed time to interact. After all, to get acquainted with a new person we must have time for interaction. He saw that his parishioners got that time, that they might come to a realization that they are known even as they now know. In the Second Great Awakening, Finney incorporated new tools, not without controversy, but I think he was aiming at the same thing—to give the sinner and God time to meet and to make accord with one another. He put a bench right down in the front of where he was preaching.

It came to be called the anxious seat, where a seeker might come looking for God. Finney was also known for staying and praying until the peace of God was found. In the Third Great Awakening, my favorite, those who came to Christ did so frequently in the presence of people praying right with them; certainly they would press on in prayer until they received assurance.
We are like snake oil salesmen; we do not seem to really believe in our product. We are guilty of peddling cheap grace. Maybe the reason I find us so dead in our dealings with new converts is that I remember gaining so much from my own conversion. I was aware for the first time of the terrible darkness I had been walking in, and suddenly I was also aware of the Holy God, who not only gave himself for me, but was patiently nudging me along, trying to call me and awaken me to the greatest life one can ever know—a life committed to the One who committed himself to us.

In part three, I do want to write about the lack of vitality in so many corners of our church today. Perhaps our cheap grace has had a far more significant effect than we realize.

1. Tozer, A. W. (2014-06-14). Keys to the Deeper Life (Kindle Locations 82-83). Chariot eBooks. Kindle Edition.

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