A seminary professor of mine recently posted on Facebook…”Grace comes with strings attached.”
It was a statement that caused me to really think. I read some of the angry comments beneath the post reacting in horror. Charged statements assuming that the professor meant that salvation is earned as opposed to a gift. I don’t think he meant it like that. What he meant is that when you receive Christ, you become a new creation. This world is no longer your home. You are the receiver of a new identity. You have become a citizen of heaven and therefore have different responsibilities with that citizenship. Don’t worry, you didn’t deserve it. Grace is still unmerited favor.
However, I think for some of us in church world, we look at Jesus as the one who will get us all we could ever hope for or dream of in this life and the life to come. And in fact, some church people preach, that if you give your life to Jesus then you will get the job, the spouse, the children, the fame…the life you always wanted are the strings attached to grace. In this version, Jesus is the ultimate guru. He is really wise. He knows how to handle conflict. He is patient with tough people, but can find win-win solutions in every difficult issues. Generally this Jesus lives in a condo overlooking lake Austin and is doing well only charging a 10% commission. The problem with this Jesus is he sometimes doesn’t always come through. He isn’t always at his desk to answer desperate prayers. He is sometimes out of the office on vacation, when you get served divorce papers or get let go on a job you were depending on. And somehow our worldview gets blown up, because our life coach Jesus had one too many clients and couldn’t keep up with his demand. In fact, at our church we give out Bibles to all who need one. One of our greeters brought a Bible up to me before service the other day. Written in the Bible it said, “If Jesus was real, then my parents wouldn’t be divorced, my heart wouldn’t be broken, and I wouldn’t be so sad.” Guru Jesus failed.
I think there are others who read or hear of Jesus and think of him as a little annoying. He is the guy at the party reminding everyone not to drink too much, and he always looks stressed that people are “living in sin.” It’s as if Jesus is constantly wringing his hands in frustration that America has gone to “hell in a handbasket”—whatever that means. I mean we would all agree that this Jesus is probably right that people shouldn’t merge bank accounts before marriage, that we should work really hard at whatever we do to show ourselves as godly people. We would agree with this Jesus that it is better to give than to receive. We would agree with him that porn, video games, and netflix consume way too much of our lives and we should just follow Jesus out the door to Purityland, but cmon, can’t we have some semblance of fun first? Receiving grace is less about a new life in Jesus that is incredible, but carrying the strings attached: the weight of obedience and service.
You see it is these two views which leave us missing out on several things. The reality of who Jesus is, and what it means to follow him.
Jesus made this really clear in Matthew 8. Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” -Matthew 8:18-20
Jesus is drawing the crowds. A scribe loves it. He falls in love with the ideal message of the sermon on the mount where everyone loves everyone. He wants in. He says what everyone in the world would say to their hero. “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Now there is nothing wrong with this statement. Perhaps calling him teacher, put Jesus in the guru category. But Jesus is/was a teacher. He is God, so he is more than a teacher. But I don’t know if addressing him as teacher was the real issue. What we find is that there is something wrong in his heart that Jesus rips.
Jesus shares that following him requires giving up earthly success. You don’t reach guru status and get everything the world has to offer. What Jesus gets is persecution, sorrows, betrayal, and homelessness. And that isn’t what the scribe is signing up for.
In Matthew 8:21-22 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
Sounds a little harsh, but this is not Jesus telling him to skip the funeral. We know that this person has been traveling with Jesus for a while, because he is called a disciple.If his father had been sick and was about to die, he wouldn’t have been with Jesus anyway, because of the patriarchal society and the adherence to old testament law for caring for the elderly. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that he didn’t want to let his dad down, by following Jesus. That might mean being cut off financially, or being taken off his dad’s insurance.
Jesus tells him to let the spiritually dead bury the spiritually dead. We know it wasn’t a literal phrase, because dead people don’t bury anyone—they just rot. This was an issue of the man not wanting to displease dad. Jesus looks at him and shares with him that his allegiance is all in. He must be first. He becomes first priority. Jesus becomes everything. There is nothing that is more important than following Jesus.
That makes sense when we understand how awesome Jesus is. He is big. So big the entire universe fits the span of his hand. That would make the milky way, the galaxy we live in a mere spec in his hand. That’s the issue, we see God as our helper, as our guide, our guru here for us. As opposed to us playing a role in his story. The King Jesus story. We don’t get to attach strings to the King and have serve our desire for our own kingdom. But who actually is that altruistic? I just know for myself, that I’m always wondering why I do things. Was that for me? or for the King?
Here is the good news. Entering the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t just you crossing over the border—you can’t actually. Only the Holy Spirit can open a heart and draw a person in. In fact, it’s more like the Kingdom of Heaven entering the border of your soul. And when the Kingdom enters, it sets up it’s castle. And for Christians who have received the kingdom, we need to wrestle with what it looks like to have Jesus as King—and all that comes attached with serving Him. I love how Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the renowned pastor of the Nazi era who fought against Hitler’s regime. He said, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.”
Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.—Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Do you tend to be like the scribe disappointed that fame and fortune won’t be the result of following Jesus? Or are you frustrated that you keep getting offers to follow Jesus, but you have things you need to do first, before you get serious?