Serving Jesus through discipleship

Sola Gratia

I will start off this post by quoting from an article from Ligonier Ministries titled Sola Gratia: Christians Are Saved by the Grace of God AloneI will comment on the sections that I either do not understand or that I believe are commonly misunderstood.

Among Protestants, there is a popular misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on grace. Sometimes it is said, “Rome teaches that we are saved by works, but Protestants teach that we are saved by grace.” This statement, common as it is, is a slander against the Roman Catholic Church. Rome does not teach that one is saved by works apart from the grace of God. She, in fact, teaches that one is saved by the grace of God.

To what, then, did Rome object in the Reformers’ teaching? Where does the line of difference between Rome and the Reformation lie? It lies in a single word—sola (“alone”). The Reformers maintained that the sinner is saved by the grace of God, His unmerited favor, alone. This doctrine means that nothing the sinner does commends him to the grace of God, and that the sinner does not cooperate with God in order to merit his salvation. Salvation, from beginning to end, is the sovereign gift of God to the unworthy and undeserving. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, who were inclined to boasting: “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). No one can ever stand before God and say, “Look at me and at what I have done!” God is no one’s debtor, not least in matters of salvation (Rom. 11:35).

One passage of Scripture in which the doctrine of salvation by grace alone shines brightly is Ephesians 2:1–10. Paul wrote to the Ephesians after having ministered among them for some three years (Acts 20:31). It is clear from the Acts of the Apostles that Paul had deeply devoted himself to preaching and teaching the Word of God to them (19:8–10; 20:20–21).

At this point, I think we need to take a look at Ephesians 2:1-10. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Noticed that the verbs in the passage are in the past tense: “you were dead”, “you once walked”, “we all once lived”  and “were by nature children of wrath”. So, by Paul’s own words, the saving grace of God has changed us. As Christians we are no longer dead, we no longer walk in trespasses and sins, we no linger live in the passions of our flesh and our nature has changed. No longer are we children of wrath! Through grace alone, we have become children of God!

I think that, in some congregations, when the doctrine of Sola Gratia is taught, the fact that we are changed is left out. As a result, the idea that because of grace we can continue in sin is allowed to creep in. This was a problem even in the early church which is why Paul wrote in his letter to the romans What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

When Bonhoeffer talks about cheap grace, what he is really talking about is the ability of people to resist the saving grace of God while believing that they are saved anyway. What do you think?

Larry’s Musings

As I was going through The Cost of Discipleship and writing the post Understanding Bonhoeffer’s Thoughts on Grace, my mind went to the five points of Calvinism. (Which I disagree with by the way.) The five points are:

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited atonement
  4. Irrestable grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

After briefly reviewing the five points (which I won’t go into here), I concluded that Calvinism’s pillars aren’t really the problem concerning cheap grace, although I believe one or more contribute to the problem!

I then questioned the five solae. These are:

  1. Sola Scriptura
  2. Sola Fide
  3. Sola Gratia
  4. Solus Christus of Solo Christo
  5. Soli Deo Gloria

I definitely agree with the five solae! However I believe that often they are poorly taught and many times misunderstood. Since I am commenting on the chapter Costly Grace, in posts subsequent to this I will attempt to question the way the concept of Sola Gratia is taught and how I believe it is misunderstood.

By the way, I welcome any ideas that differ from my own!

Understanding Bonhoeffer’s Thoughts on Grace

While Sonny believes that he understands the concept of what Bonhoeffer talks about in chapter 1, I don’t believe that I completely understand it. Since it is hard for me to understand, I have been hesitant to dig into the book again and try to get a handle on what Bonhoeffer is trying  to get me to understand. Today I am digging in again!

In the second paragraph of the chapter, talking about cheap grace, Bonhoeffer states: “Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she she showers blessings …”. The points I take from this are:

  1. Grace is not the church’s treasury. Grace is a gift of and from God!
  2. The church does not bestow blessings, God bestows the blessings.

Still talking about cheap grace, Bonhoeffer goes on to say that grace is the source of the forgiveness of sins. I guess that is true! He also says that “An intellectual assent to that ideas held to beef itself sufficient to secure the remission of sins.”  I think I have experienced that idea in congregations that I have visited. The idea is that if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, your sins are forgiven. If that is true, what do you do with James 2:19? “Even the demons believe – and shudder.” Satan and his minions believe that Jesus is the son of God. They also know that they are loved by God because, like us, they are His creation. So, in believing, is their sin forgiven? I believe that under the doctrine of cheap grace, they are forgiven ! I think that is part of Bonhoeffer’s point.

“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.” Think about it …, God would not be God if sin were justified! If everything can remain the way it was before, then “the Christian can live like the rest of the world (that is what appears to me to be happening). It would be presumptuous to aspire to live a different life under grace from the old life under sin. If we aspire to live righteously rather than sinfully, it would call into question the efficacy of God’s grace! If that is the case, what is the meaning of Romans 6:1-7?

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can nwe who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Sonny asked me for my thoughts on “yet it is imperative for the Christian to achieve renunciation, to practice self-effacement, to distinguish his life from the life of the world. He must let grace be grace indeed, otherwise he will destroy the world’s faith in the free gift of grace.” in a text message. It is important to remember that Bonhoeffer is still talking about cheap grace. What he is saying is that if we attempt fo follow Christ, to live righteously as He lived, then grace would not be grace. The blessings we receive could and would be attributed to our good works, something we have earned, not God’s unmerited favor! Again, if that is the case, what do we do with Romans 6:1-7?

So, cheap grace is defined as forgiveness without repentance, baptism without discipline, communion with confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross and grace without Jesus Christ. (pg 44-45)

Sonny on Grace

In my last email at the start of it all I asked 2 questions:

What is Grace?

In this email I hope to answer that question.  But in asking that question I am finding it is more complicated than / not as simple as I had hoped for.   I will explain.

In Wikipedia it seems they give a good all-around perceptive of what grace is.   It seems our ancestors have made it so complicated.   I have provided a like to Wikipedia for your reading enjoyment.

Over the years I have collected sayings of what graces is:

  • Grace is getting what we don’t deserve while Mercy is not getting what we deserve.
  • Grace means that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.Grace also means there is nothing we can do to make God loves us more.
  • God’s unmerited favor.

In Romans 6.20 it says

Now the Law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more

In Romans 11.6 it speaks of Grace and what grace is not:

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

In 1 Corinthians 1.4 says – Grace come through Jesus

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus

In 2 Corinthians 6.1 – that we can receive grace in vain.   Rather it encourages us NOT to receive grace in vain.

Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the Grace of God in vain.

Cheap Grace

  • Means sold on the market – The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin and the consolation of religion
  • Grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system
  • The justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.
  • No contrition is required – still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.
  • Is not obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ
  • Is Grace we bestow on ourselves.
  • Is the preaching of forgiveness without the requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, Absolution without personal confession.
  • Is grace without discipleship
  • Grace without the cross
  • Grace without Jesus Christ

Costly Grace

  • Is the treasure hidden in the field
  • Is the pearl of great price
  • Is the kingly rule of Christ
  • The call of Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
  • Is the gospel which must be sought again and again
  • The Gift that must be asked for
  • The door at which must be knock
  • Grace is costly because it calls us to follow – it is grace because it call us to follow Jesus Christ
  • It is costly because it costa a man his life – it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
  • It is costly because it condemns sin – grace because it justifies the sinner
  • Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life as His Son 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 of a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us.
  • Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him – it is grace because Jesus says “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

What is Grace?

After reading and re-reading chapter one especially towards the end of the chapter I realized that Bonhoeffer is writing from the perspective of being a Lutheran.   I therefore think it is necessary to read the article mention above from Wikipedia concerning Grace to understanding Bonhoeffer presentation.

What is Grace?   I agree with you Larry let’s keep simple

What is Grace?

It is God showing us with His unmerited favor.

What does unmerited favor mean?   I take this to mean John 3:16!   That God loved us before we were even able to Love God.  That God has such compassion for us that He sent Jesus to this world to live and die for us while we were still His enemies.

I think of Hosea where God showed His love through this man by having him marry a prostitute so that she would break his heart, again and again and yet he remarries her once again.   We are that prostitute!

If what Philip Yancey wrote is true:

Grace means that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more.

Grace also means that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.

Seeing that Grace is God’s unmerited favor – how can we cheapen it or make it more costly?  How can we prove to God we are worth saving?

Grace is God’s unmerited favor – that is God’s decision, that is on God’s part, that is on God’s side of our relationship with Him – there is nothing we can do to influence it one way or the other.   God decided to love us while we hated, beat, crucified, killed and continued to doubt that He ever existed.  Cheap vs Costly.  It cost God everything, how can it be anything else but costly.  We cannot cheapen it one bit by how we live after all it is God’s unmerited favor towards us.

Ephesians 4:1 – 3 says:

​ I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Maybe what Bonhoeffer is talking about is this “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” Cheapening it or making it more Costly but surely we can’t earn or change what God is doing on His part that is Him showing us His unmerited favor.


Thoughts on Grace

I haven’t heard from Sonny in a few days. Our agreement was that we would challenge and encourage each other to read and understand Bonhoeffer’s work. So yesterday I called him to find out what was going on. He told me he was trying to find the answer to the question “What is Grace?” In addition to reading “The Cost of Discipleship” he is reading a book on grace. He told me the name of the author, but I already forgot.

My point is that the simplest definition of grace is “Unmerited favor”. Even though we don’t deserve it, God loves us. A more complete definition is:

Grace (131x)  G5485 (156x)

[Greek Strong’s]

5485. ca¿riß charis, khar´-ece; from 5463; graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude): — acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace(- ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank(-s, -worthy).

[American Church]

Grace. — The word “grace” means a special favor, and is applied to the whole obedience, merit, Passion and Death of our Lord and the benefits that flow from them, — justification, wisdom, sanctification, Redemption. The Church, which is the Body of Christ, is called the Kingdom of Grace, for in it we become members of Christ and partakers of His grace and heavenly benediction. The Sacraments, as well as other ordinances, are called “means of grace,” because they are the appointed instrumentalities whereby God gives grace to His faithful people, to help them in living faithfully and in obtaining Salvation.

So, if grace can be defined simply, why is there such a great number of books on the topic? Is this a complicated topic or has the church made it complicated. I believe it is a fact that grace is misunderstood. Otherwise, why would Bonhoeffer have written a chapter on it? Why would other authors have written books on it?

Grace is one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and yet one of the most misunderstood. I believe there is a Calvinist and an Arminian view of grace. There are probably numerous views in between those two! So, what are we to believe? John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius developed their view of grace from the same scriptures. Those scriptures are the same scriptures that we have today. I wanted to say “Never mind what Calvin or Arminius said, what does the bible say?” These two respected theologians came to different interpretations of the same scriptures. How can we know which is closer to being right?

Maybe keeping it simple is best! At least for now!

I Got Lost

Last week, I went to a reunion of a ship that I used to be a crew member of. Before I left though, I starting reading Chapter 1 of The Cost of Discipleship. I got about half way through and became hopelessly lost. I thought I understood what Bonhoeffer was talking in the Costly Grace chapter. Maybe I was wrong! Anyway, I didn’t finish the chapter before time to leave for the reunion.

Today I am starting again! Let’s see if I can get farther. Once I finish the first read of the chapter, I will re-read it again and comment in this blog what I think I just read. Maybe I can get through it with understanding!

What is Discipleship?

It occurred to me that before beginning the study on The Cost of Discipleship, it would be beneficial to answer the question “What is discipleship?” This may be harder than it would at first seem! The best definition I could find is, “Christian discipleship is the process by which disciples grow in the Lord Jesus Christ and are equipped by the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts, to overcome the pressures and trials of this present life and become more and more Christlike.”

That definition seems sort of circular “discipleship is the process by which disciples grow”. So, what is a disciple? The following is from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

Follower of Jesus Christ, especially the commissioned Twelve who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. The term “disciple” comes to us in English from a Latin root. Its basic meaning is “learner” or “pupil.” The term is virtually absent from the OT, though there are two related references (1 Chron. 25:8; Isa. 8:16).

In the Greek world the word “disciple” normally referred to an adherent of a particular teacher or religious/philosophical school. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. In rabbinic Judaism the term “disciple” referred to one who was committed to the interpretations of Scripture and religious tradition given him by the master or rabbi. Through a process of learning which would include a set meeting time and such pedagogical methods as question and answer, instruction, repetition, and memorization, the disciple would become increasingly devoted to the master and the master’s teachings. In time, the disciple would likewise pass on the traditions to others.

Jesus’ Disciples In the NT 233 of the 261 instances of the word “disciple” occur in the Gospels, the other 28 being in Acts. Usually the word refers to disciples of Jesus, but there are also references to disciples of the Pharisees (Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18), disciples of John the Baptist (Mark 2:18; Luke 11:1; John 1:35), and even disciples of Moses (John 9:28).

The Gospels often refer to Jesus as “Rabbi” (Matt. 26:25,49; Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:21; John 1:38,49; 3:2,26; 6:25; 20:16 NIV). One can assume that Jesus used traditional rabbinic teaching techniques (question and answer, discussion, memorization) to instruct His disciples. In many respects Jesus differed from the rabbis. He called His disciples to “follow Me” (Luke 5:27). Disciples of the rabbis could select their teachers. Jesus oftentimes demanded extreme levels of personal renunciation (loss of family, property, etc.; Matt. 4:18-22; 10:24-42; Luke 5:27-28; 14:25-27; 18:28-30). He asked for lifelong allegiance (Luke 9:57-62) as the essential means of doing the will of God (Matt. 12:49-50; John 7:16-18). He taught more as a bearer of divine revelation than a link in the chain of Jewish tradition (Matt. 5:21-48; 7:28-29; Mark 4:10-11). In so doing Jesus announced the end of the age and the long-awaited reign of God (Matt. 4:17; Luke 4:14-21,42-44).

The Twelve As the messianic proclaimer of the reign of God, Jesus gathered about Himself a special circle of 12 disciples, clearly a symbolic representation of the 12 tribes (Matt. 19:28). He was reestablishing Jewish social identity based upon discipleship to Jesus. The Twelve represented a unique band, making the word “disciple” (as a reference to the Twelve) an exact equivalent to “apostle” in those contexts where the latter word was also restricted to the Twelve. The four lists of the Twelve in the NT (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13,26) also imply from their contexts the synonymous use of the terms “disciples”/“apostles” when used to refer to the Twelve.

A Larger Group of Followers The Gospels clearly show that the word “disciple” can refer to others besides the Twelve. The verb “follow” became something of a technical term Jesus used to call His disciples, who were then called “followers,” (Mark 4:10). These “followers” included a larger company of people from whom He selected the Twelve (Mark 3:7-19; Luke 6:13-17). This larger group of disciples/followers included men and women (Luke 8:1-3; 23:49) from all walks of life. (Even the Twelve included a variety: fishermen, a tax collector, a Zealot.) Jesus was no doubt especially popular among the socially outcast and religiously despised, but people of wealth and of theological training also followed (Luke 8:1-3; 19:1-10; John 3:1-3; 12:42; 19:38-39).

The Twelve were sent out as representatives of Jesus, commissioned to preach the coming of the kingdom, to cast out demons, and to heal diseases (Matt. 10:1,5-15; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6). Such tasks were not limited to the Twelve (Luke 10:1-24). Apparently Jesus’ disciples first included “a great multitude of disciples” (Luke 6:17). He formed certain smaller and more specifically defined groups within that “great multitude.” These smaller groups would include a group of “70” (Luke 10:1,17), the “Twelve” (Matt. 11:1; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1), and perhaps an even smaller, inner group within the Twelve, consisting especially of Peter, James, and John—whose names (with Andrew) always figure first in the lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:16-17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), whose stories of calling are especially highlighted (Matt. 4:18-22; John 1:35-42 and the tradition that John is the “Other”/“Beloved Disciple” of the Gospel of John—13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and who alone accompanied Jesus on certain significant occasions of healing and revelation (Matt. 17:1; Mark 13:3; Luke 8:51).

All Followers of Jesus The book of the Acts of the Apostles frequently uses the term “disciple” to refer generally to all those who believe in the risen Lord (6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19, 26, 38; 11:26, 29). In addition, the verb form “to disciple” as it appears in the final commissioning scene of Matthew’s Gospel (28:19-20) also suggests a use in the early church of the term “disciple” as a more generalized name for all those who come to Jesus in faith, having heard and believed the gospel.

Conclusion We have seen that, as references to the Twelve, the words “apostle” and “disciple” could be synonymous. However, just as the term “disciple” could mean other followers of Jesus than the Twelve in the time of His ministry, so also after His resurrection the term “disciple” had a wider meaning as well, being clearly applied to all His followers. Whereas the term “apostle” retained a more specific meaning, being tied to certain historical eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord, the word “disciple” tended to lose its narrower associations with the Twelve, and/or those who followed the historical Jesus, or who saw the risen Lord, and became a virtual equivalent to “Christian” (Acts 11:26). In every case, however, the common bond of meaning for the various applications of the word “disciple” was allegiance to Jesus. See Apostle.

Robert B. Sloan, Jr.

It seems that the definition of disciple can include anyone from a new convert, knowing little and behaving like a heathen, to a person mature in the teachings and ways of Christ. My question is “Are you still a disciple if you permanently stagnate in the process?”  If you quit learning to obey the commands of Christ you exit the discipleship process and are no longer a disciple.

The discipleship process includes:

  • Transformation and repentance, making God your priority
  • Learning the written word of God and living by it with commitment
  • Loving, edifying, and serving others as God leads
  • Focusing on living righteously, being fruitful
  • Accountability with godly authority

Questions Concerning Discipleship

This morning I read the Introduction to “The Cost of Discipleship”. The first thing I noticed is that many questions are asked. I assume that the rest of the book answers those questions. I will list the questions later, but the most pressing question for me is: “If discipleship costs, and according to Jesus, it does, (Luke 14:27-29) how is the yoke easy and the burden light?” 

The second sentence talks about slogans and catchwords of ecclesiastical controversy. While reading this I thought about slogans popular today: Jesus Saves; Jesus is Lord; Jesus is the answer; etc. I believe these slogans were meant to be used as rallying cries to the unbeliever as a reason to come to Christ. However, they have been so over used and typically lack context so that they are meaningless.

The questions that I will try to answer in reading this book are:

  • What did Jesus mean to say to us?
  • What is His will for us today?
  • How can he help us to be good Christians in the modern world?

Earlier today I received an email from Sonny. After reading chapter one, he asked:

  • What is Grace?
  • What is Discipleship?
  • What does discipleship look like?

I think the word discipleship is another term from the Christian lexicon that is poorly understood by most pastors, at least if it is understood, it isn’t explained very well!

The introduction also postulates that often the denominations that are supposed to present Christ to the world have rules and dogmas that act as obstacles to Jesus and his word. It is also true that each of us filter the Scriptures and sermons through years of ideas and expressions that are hard to understand.

Hopefully, this book is able to cut through all the accumulated clutter and lead us to an accurate interpretation of Christ’s word.

The Cost of Discipleship

I have recently been challenged to engage in a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship”. It has been a while since I read the book, however I remember that the first section is difficult to understand.

With that in mind, my intention is to put my notes on this blog. Maybe someone will stumble across my musings and contribute. If that happens, it will encourage me to dig deeper into the book and scripture to better understand what discipleship is.

My friend Sonny is the person challenging me. I think we are doing this study together. This will be an online study as Sonny is a traveling missionary and I am recently retired and enjoying staying in one place.

Thinking about continuing

I’ve let this blog sit for a while now. Should I pick it up again?

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