Costly Grace 4

Romans 12:1

If you say the word “Lent” to just about anyone the first thought that usually comes to mind is that this is a time of sacrifice, a time to give up something for 40 days. But if we see Lent as only that then we are only seeing part of the picture.

The idea of giving something up is an exercise in self-denial, a process of learning to put your focus not on human, material and temporary things, but instead on heavenly, spiritual things. But most people miss that second part.

Jesus said in Mark 8:34 that we are to deny ourselves – give up human desires – but in their place pick up the cross. This is the second half of the Lenten experience.

Lent is more than a time of sacrifice and giving up. It is a time of also taking on challenges. Once we are able to deny the human desires that are so strong in us, we can fill that void with spiritual endeavors.

Our 40-day journey to Easter is a time where we are confronted with the need for each of us as Christians to take on an attitude of costly grace. Costly grace is more than sacrificing those bits and pieces of life that are unnecessary anyway. Costly grace is taking on an attitude of holy giving, of living the way Jesus lived by investing ourselves completely and whole-heartedly in the work of God.

Costly grace means doing the work of Jesus in our society today. It means standing up against injustice. It means offering your whole self to the benefit of the needy, and to those who are spiritually empty, who need that relationship with God.

Paul has something to say about sacrifice and costly grace in his letter to the church in Rome. What should be our sacrifice? If we give our bodies as sacrifices, what holy act are we doing?

Notice that Paul says that our bodies should be “living sacrifices.” We are not simply to die for a good cause, but we are to live for the service of God. We are to act and do and perform works of mercy and compassion. In so doing we are worshiping God in our behavior, worshiping God in our very being.

Lent is more than an exercise in giving up. It is a lesson in taking on the life of a Christian, living out the love of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Where is your living sacrifice needed in the world around you?

Costly Grace 3

Matthew 6:1-4

It is common in Lent for people to give up something as a sign of their faith journey to holiness. Unfortunately it is also common for those who have given up something to make loud announcements and proclamations of what they have given up. They lament their decision to give up chocolate and commiserate with others on how much they miss it. Or they announce how much time they have devoted to Bible study and how hard it is for them to carry through on their plans.

While it is good and noble to be willing to enter into a time of self-denial, the attitude we take on can remove the goodness of those intentions. What comments does Jesus make about sacrifice? What have these people already received? What should our attitude be?

If we sacrifice anything just so that others can see how good we are, then we have already received our reward. We managed to impress others, but we have done nothing to enrich our connection to God.

In verse 3 Jesus makes the comment that we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. And that instruction seems like an impossible thing to do. How can one hand do something without our entire body knowing what is going on?

Well, in the physical world that is a complete impossibility. If any part of our body functions the entire body is aware of it.

But if we look at this from a spiritual point of view it may make more sense. If the left hand represents the human part of our thinking, and the right hand represents the spiritual side of who we are then it can be accomplished.

If we can give and sacrifice, if we can exhibit costly grace on a purely spiritual level – the right hand – and do that work for purely sacrificial reasons, then we are denying our human desire for popularity and praise. If our actions are done in honest love and genuine sacrifice, then our right hand – our spirit – has done something that does not benefit the left hand – our humanness.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do to keep your acts of grace centered on your right hand – your spiritual side – and not your left hand – your human, earthly side?

Costly Grace 2

Mark 8:34

When I entered into the ministry I first had to attend a week-long school with various classes on how to be a pastor. One of the concluding services to that program involved each of us candidates going forward and standing in front of the cross. At the cross we were each to confess to God what it was in our lives that we would give up for God.

In this season of Lent every one of us who call ourselves Christian must examine our faith and our relationship with Christ. Each of us must determine what it is that we can give up for God. We must decide what it is that we will sacrifice so that we might be closer to our Lord and Savior.

In this passage from Mark Jesus is traveling with his disciples in the villages near Caesarea Philippi when he calls his followers to his side. What does Jesus say we must give up? What must we take on?

Jesus gives fairly simple instructions, but presents a challenge that is hard to live out. If any person will follow in the footsteps of Jesus, if any person will try to live a life of holy action and holy thinking, then that person must learn to deny themselves. Such denial goes beyond giving up a particular piece of our lives – refraining from eating certain foods or doing certain actions.

To deny oneself means to put our human desires aside, putting our own wants and wishes in a lower position. This clears the way for the cross we must take up. And the cross is the symbol of sacrifice, the representation of giving and loving completely.

We are to put away the wants of the world – our desires for wealth and power and personal comfort – and replace them with an attitude of service to God. We need to go beyond simply letting go of certain things that may control what we do. Once these are removed they must be replaced with an attitude and desire to be more Christ-like in our thinking, speaking and acting.

The cross we should pick up is the cross of loving others, of desiring what is best for others, and what is best for the Kingdom of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What cross of costly grace do you need to pick up?

Costly Grace 1

As we enter into our season of Lent, that 40-day period where we prepare ourselves for the gift of the resurrection, we are reminded that we are to take a journey of faith. In these weeks before Easter we need to examine ourselves, examine our spiritual state, to see if we are ready to accept the salvation Jesus gives.
We are to take this time to build our faith. And this year we will follow the events of Holy Week, using Jesus as our guide. But first we must know what grace and Lent are all about.

Numbers 13:30-31

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor and theologian who died for opposing Adolf Hitler, talked about “costly grace.” The idea is that grace, which is free to us, cost God His Son. In response we should be willing to give of ourselves, risking and committing all to serve the Lord.

In Numbers we have the story of Moses leading the Israelites to the very border of the Promised Land, that wonderful place God had pledged to them. Before they enter, however, spies are sent in to see what the land is like. When they return they tell of the incredible bounty that awaits them, but they also warn of the people living there. They are very powerful.

What does Caleb want to do? What confidence does he have? What do the other men say?

God had promised the Israelites a home filled with abundance, a land flowing with milk and honey. And the spies who entered Canaan found incredible abundance waiting for them. But they were frightened and did not trust in God.

Caleb had confidence in God. He knew that if God had made the promise that Canaan was to belong to the Israelites then indeed it would. They simply needed to move ahead with God’s plans and receive what He had promised.

But others did not have that strength in their faith. They doubted. In fact they were so afraid they threatened to stone Moses if he led them into the Promised Land. The result was that God cursed them, His anger burning against them. All of the Israelites at that time were cursed to wander the wilderness until they had all died.

The days of Lent are often compared to the wilderness of wandering. As we enter into this season we must remember the incredible bounty that awaits us on Easter Sunday. It is a gift from God for each of us as sinners. But we must prepare ourselves to receive this wonderful gift.

To prepare ourselves we must move forward in our faith, pushing ahead with the confidence of Caleb, and not the self-doubting weakness seen in the other spies. In the coming weeks you should examine your faith and how it compares to the perfect example of holiness found in Jesus.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Honestly evaluate your faith. Does it have the confidence seen in Caleb, or are you often timid like the other spies?