Expensive Grace

I’m glad to be Facebook friends with some devout Catholics.  I enjoy some of the things they share that differ greatly from either the outright heretical stuff that some “Christians” share, or the hoppy-poppy motivational stuff that others share.  I have big beefs with some Catholic theology, and immense respect for other aspects of it.  One of my beefs is the consistent confusion over grace and who pays for it.

One of those Facebook friends posted this blog (not their own) the other day.  I like the general theme of taking our faith seriously and challenging the expectations and assumptions of our culture.  But this phrase slapped me across the face:

We don’t hear nearly enough that grace costs. We don’t hear nearly enough that to follow Christ more or less means being poor. We’re not called to live in destitution but we’re clearly called to not own much more than we can use, which is really not all that much. We’re called to poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Yes, I agree completely, grace costs, and we don’t think about that nearly enough.

However it doesn’t cost us.  It cost God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit an amount that I am unable to comprehend as a creation rather than the Creator.  That is where the cost lies.  The grace that is offered to me through faith in the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of the Son of God, Jesus, is free.  I don’t owe God anything for it, and I can’t possibly pay God anything for it (which is the point of it being free, not surprisingly).

So it isn’t that grace is costly, but rather two other realities that are very costly.  The first is that living in this sinful world, I have an enemy who hates God and can’t hurt him, so he targets God’s creation and particularly those who have received this free grace from God.  So from that perspective, I can expect suffering and loss and frustration.  I may feel deprived of the things in life that I would really like, not because God is capricious or cruel but because I need to learn what is best for me and because I have an enemy that wants to keep God’s blessings from me.

The second reality is that in response to the grace I have received from God, the Holy Spirit now living within me leads me more and more to empathize with those who suffer and are in need.  Being rescued from the wrath of God against my sinful rebellion, I want to pour out a measure of that love I have received so freely to others around me, just as freely.  How this looks in my life will look differently from person to person, but will have a commonality in being with those in need in one way or another.  Spending time with the lonely.  Being generous with the resources God has entrusted to me.

I disagree that the Bible calls all followers of Christ to subsistence living – though I believe that God the Holy Spirit does call some people to this.  The passage out of Ecclesiastes that is the Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is helpful with this (Ecclesiastes 5:10-20).  Enjoy and give thanks to God for what you have received but keep it in perspective!  This is not a passage that teaches us to impoverish ourselves, but it does remind us the dangers of mixing up our priorities.

There is no inherent virtue in poverty, and no inherent crime in wealth.  In both situations the danger is losing sight of our relationship with God, and both extremes lend themselves well to that.  Likewise, for those in the middle, the danger is apathy and the atrophy of the heart towards those with less, or spitefulness towards those with more.

We give of ourselves not because the grace of God is expensive to us, but out of joy for how lavishly God gives to us in his forgiveness and grace.  It is expensive not in that much is required of me to receive it – I merely have to trust that this is what He offers me!  It is expensive in that, having received this generous grace, I am no longer free to keep myself as my highest priority.  I have submitted myself to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in my heart and I am warned to take that seriously (the second half of Hebrews 3 & 4).  But if I am honest and trusting, in time, I’ll learn that even when I am prompted to sacrifice for others, it really isn’t very expensive at all.  It becomes a joy.

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