Free and cheap are not the same thing. They are not even in the same ballpark. In fact, the “free” things in your life will often be the most costly. Everything costs something, to someone. A free car will come with unforeseen expense. And a free pet is anything but free.
Years ago we took our children to a local pet store in search of a cat. The pet store hosted a pet adoption and it seemed a good idea to give a good home to a free, stray cat. The adoptable cats ran the gamut of breeds, colours, and patterns. But as we were perusing, the charming salesperson said, “and then we have this poor little kitten.” Ushering my tender-hearted little girls to the back of the store she pointed out a tiny little calico with only one eye. The girls were smitten. All other options were off the table. Their little motherly hearts went out to Callie and she joined our family. She was freely adopted, but she was not cheap.
In addition to shots, spaying, and the usual pet expenses that confront a first-time pet owner, Callie lost her eye due to an infection shortly after she was born. The cost of her vet care was not cheap. She was free, but costly. But she lived a long life in our family and was a most beloved cat. Unlike many of our other cats, she loved to be with us, to be held by us, to stay close to us. She would hear the approach of our car, run to the end of our long drive, and run ahead of us as we drove up – without fail.
The free things in our lives are often the most costly. This is especially true of God’s grace. It is absolutely free, but unbelievably costly. It is the costliest thing in your life. It is freely given and can only be received freely by faith. Yet it’s cost to God was incalculable as His Son spent His life to fully pay the debt of justice that was ours to pay.
But it comes also at the cost of our lives as well. When we are made new by God’s grace, the old passes away and the new comes. But this new normal is a life lived under the Lordship of Christ for the glory of God the Father. It is not simply forgiveness of sin and pardon from its consequences. But we are united to Christ and undergo the work of sanctification wherein our sin is forsaken and holiness is pursued. Grace is free. But it is not cheap. On the contrary it is costly.
In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer contrasts cheap grace and costly grace.
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….
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.
In the introduction to this book, Bonhoeffer famously observed that “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” How far will you follow Christ? In Luke 9, Jesus challenges three would-be disciples with just this question. How far will you follow me? Through what adversity? Through what difficulty? Jesus concluded these encounters with a startling statement. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
The prophet Jeremiah was called to follow Christ down a difficult road. Four decades of preaching fell on deaf ears. No one listened. No one responded. He was hunted by the authorities and hated by his own friends and family. He had no one to support him in his own grief over the judgment coming upon his people. His only refuge was the Lord, but even the Lord often seemed distant. All this comes to a crisis in Jeremiah 15 and the prophet confronts God and God calls Jeremiah to repent – to turn back from contemplating turning away. The Lord reminds the prophet of His grace and his calling. He reminds Jeremiah that the only way to stay close to Him is to follow wherever He leads. Then the Lord calls him to an even rockier path. He was not allowed to marry. He was forbidden to be a part of the life of the community either in the joy of its feasts or the sorrow of its funerals. His life would be a living sermon, declaring that God has also withdrawn from the life of the people. How far will Jeremiah follow?
What about you? How far will you follow Christ? He offers grace and mercy freely. But it is a costly grace. It bids us to come and die. Is there a place where you say, “here but no further?” Join us this Sunday, June 21, as we examine Jeremiah 16 and consider the costs of God’s call to follow.