Saturday, September 30, 2006


Dietrich Bonhoeffer was as far as I know, the first to use this phrase, in his 1937 book, THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP. It is thrown around quite casually by many today, often in accusations against those who preach or teach salvation through faith. Many of those who use the phrase have little if any knowledge of who Bonhoeffer was.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany, prior to and during the Second World War. He was part of what was known as “the Confessing Church,” a small minority of pastors who opposed the interference of Nazism with the church, and the church’s catering to it. He saw a comfortable church, a church that was doctrinally sound, yet with no real commitment to Christ. He attributed this to “cheap grace.”

He begins his book with a tirade against it:
-- “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church.”
-- “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares.”
-- “Grace without price; grace without cost!”
-- “Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.”
-- “An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.”

All that and more on the first page! We can hear the echoes of his spiritual forebear, Martin Luther, in his contentions against the sellers of indulgences.

But the title of the first chapter of this book is “Costly Grace.” Costly grace is the opposite of cheap grace. “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. … Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son. … and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us” (pages 47 and 48).

Powerful words! We who have committed our lives to Christ can’t help but say “Amen! Yes, this is true and it is true for me!” And as we minister to other people we sense Bonhoeffer’s frustration with those who profess faith in Christ but show little if any evidence of the Savior in their lives. We teach simple truth but they don’t get it. We give what we feel is biblical counsel to those in pain, but they continue in their self-destructive behavior. We see discipleship reduced to church attendance and a few legalistic rules.

But is the solution to this to make grace more expensive for the believer? It is with fear and trembling that I venture to disagree with this saint. But I must.

In the first place, I agree that grace is costly. As Bonhoeffer points out, it is costly to God, because it cost him the life of his Son. That’s an infinite price. And Christ paid that cost on the cross – for me. It can’t get any costlier than that!

In the second place however, grace is not costly to me the sinner. Nor is it cheap. IT’S FREE!!! That’s what grace is all about! “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). As the old hymn says, “In my hand no price I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.” To add any cost for myself to the infinite price is to cheapen grace.

There are those who try to raise the price of our salvation to exclude those who show no evidence of it. They demand a total commitment and include that in their definition of faith. But that’s not costly grace. That’s “cheapened grace.”

When I was a teenager (my pre-Christian days :^) ), I spent Friday and Saturday nights at a local dance hall. Although alcohol was not served, there was plenty consumed on the premises. Frequently deputy sheriffs were called in to collar the drunks, break up fights, etc. It got to be a hangout for those who were referred to by the owners as “riff-raff.” Finally the owners of the dance hall decided the solution to their problems was to raise the price of admission to “keep out the riff-raff.” As I recall, the price went from 25 cents to two dollars (big money in those days). It wasn’t too long, however, before the place closed. It seems that the only ones who went there were the “riff-raff.” Heaven’s sort of like that. Only riff-raff get in. If we try to shut them out, there’s no one left. “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).

But paradoxically, free grace does make demands on those who have experienced it. It doesn’t allow us to “continue in sin that grace might increase” (Romans 6:1). It puts us in a new position in Christ. Grace makes us saints and expects us to live up to our name. It tells us “as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:19). Elsewhere we’re told to present our bodies as “a living and holy sacrifice” to God. Paul says this is “our reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

Bonhoeffer is right. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (page 99). I would add, however, not in exchange for eternal life, but as the only rational response to God’s “costly grace” which is free to us in Christ.

Bill Ball

Friday, September 29, 2006


I guess it’s time to respond to Steve’s comments to my CHRISTIAN AMERICA, PART 2 blog. It’s been a month.

Steve said (among other things), “I'm suggesting that we will get farther with the typical Am Christian by interacting with them on their turf, rather than challenging their cherished stories, like ‘our Christian forefathers.’ Of course, the same would apply to humanist scientists and their evolution myths.”

I disagree. While I believe we should be gentle with our fellow Christians, I do believe that untruths need to be challenged. “ … instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3, 4). “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth … “ (2 Timothy 2:24, 25).

For years I have kept silent while being subjected to myths fed to me by my fellow believers. All that this silence ever accomplished was for them to assume that I held to those same myths.

As far as “humanist scientists and their evolution myths,” while I believe they need challenging, I don’t find this to be as important as challenging the myths held by my fellow believers. The New Testament example is that of challenging false teaching within the church – among believers.

When Paul faced “secular” thinkers in his day, he did not give a rebuttal to their thinking. Rather, he used their myths as a bridge to the gospel. Read Acts 17:16-34, especially verse 23: “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance this I proclaim to you.” But in the church Paul confronted false teaching with passion (Acts 15:1, 2; Galatians 2:5, 11, 14).

I believe we have for too long done the exact opposite of the New Testament examples and commands. We’ve pointed our finger at the sin and error outside the church and ignored the sin and error within the church.

As far as “certain stories where everyone in our group agrees on their meaning,” isn’t the biblical story (or narrative) enough? While we as Americans have other “stories,” our interpretation of those stories must be done in light of the biblical “story.”

Bill Ball

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I read last week where Rosie O’Donnell said that “Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam.” I don’t know the context, but I might suppose that she said this more for its shock value than as a statement of belief. We shouldn’t be surprised by a remark like this from the loony fringe of the left.

But maybe she’s sincere. If so, she may be on to something. Maybe radical Christianity is threatening. Certainly radical Islam should be no great cause for fear. Didn’t Jesus say, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)?

I looked up “radical” in my Webster’s and among a number of definitions, I found these: ”3. a) marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional; EXTREME; b) tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions.” This sounds like a pretty good description of the type of Christianity that its founder Jesus taught. Look at His sermon as recorded in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

He made radical statements like the following:
-- “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).
-- “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
-- “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

He gave radical commands:
-- “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:39-42).
-- “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
-- “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
-- “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

Read the whole sermon!

This is radical stuff! It fits Webster’s definition. And it IS threatening. It shakes up our views of the good life, of “the American way,” even of what we may believe is the moral life. And, sad to say, it is practiced by very few of us who profess to be followers of Jesus.

Uni and I pray daily for the persecuted church in the 10/40 window (check out We’ve been doing this for a number of years. In many of these countries Christianity is illegal, followers of Christ are persecuted and even put to death. We pray for the leaders of these countries as we’re commanded to in 1 Timothy 2:1, 2. I have often wondered why Christians seem to be hated by so many people. What is it that causes political leaders, religious and irreligious, to hate Christians so? Christians are usually good citizens, moral people. One would think that kings and presidents would encourage the growth of Christianity rather than hate or fear it. It’s no threat to them, is it?

Well, maybe it is. And just because it is radically different. Jesus told His disciples, “… The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (Luke 22:25, 26). Jesus’ teaching turns the world’s power-oriented philosophy on its head. And the world hates it. What would we expect? They hated Jesus.

So Rosie, you’re almost right. Radical Christianity is MORE threatening than radical Islam.

But Rosie, you don’t have to fear! Jesus died for you!

Sunday, September 17, 2006


That was the question on the cover of TIME this past week.

I admit I had a number of reactions. My first was to ask myself what sort of coverage a “secular” newsmagazine would give to a question that has caused much disagreement among Christians.

Another reaction was to recollect a routine by Eddie Murphy on some old TV show. He came on, dressed in gaudy clothes, sort of a hybrid between a televangelist and a pitchman on an infomercial. He pointed his finger at the screen and shouted, “You can make me rich!” This was followed by a satirical pitch. I have often suspected that this was the real, but hidden message, of many “health and wealth” preachers.

Another reaction was simply to answer the question, “Apparently God doesn’t want me rich, because I’m not rich.” Of course, further thinking forced me to admit that I am rich – materially – in comparison to most people in the world.

When I opened up to the article, I did find a fairly balanced coverage of the question. It presented opinions and even gave lists of proof texts for both sides.

So where do I start when writing about a question which has been addressed by so many? I believe the first place we should start is with the Bible. But we can’t, as so many do (and as the TIME article does), just pull out proof texts that support our opinions and throw them at each other.

1. We need to distinguish which promises stated in the Bible are addressed to us – Christians, New Covenant believers. Contrary to popular opinion and an old gospel chorus, every promise In the Book AIN’T mine. Many of the promises quoted are given to God’s Old Covenant people – ethnic and national Israel. They were promised land and material wealth for obedience, and suffering for disobedience. We weren’t! Though many preachers love to quote Malachi 3:10, (“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”), this passage was not directed toward God’s New Covenant people.

2. New Testament promises, such as Luke 6:38 and John 10:10, concerning the abundant life should not be interpreted as referring to material blessings and abundance. They need to be compared to Jesus’ other teachings on wealth.

3. Jesus Himself was poor, not just by our 21st century standards, but by those of His own day. “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). And this was a poverty that He chose.

4. Jesus taught over and over about the dangers of wealth. Even the TIME article quotes Matthew 6:19-21; Mark 10:24-26 and Luke 12:33. Jesus warns us that, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). He doesn’t say “may not,” He says “cannot.” He is not denying us permission, He is denying that we have the ability. If we make the acquisition of material wealth our master, then God isn’t our master. It’s that simple!

5. The apostle Paul warns of the dangers, not of wealth in itself but of the desire for it. “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). A little further down in the same passage, (1 Timothy 6:17-19) he instructs the rich that riches are not to be an object of their hope, but are to be a tool to be used to serve God and others.

So to get back to the question above, I’d have to answer “possibly.” That’s up to Him. But if God does want me rich, it is so that I may use it for His glory and if He doesn’t want me rich, that’s for His glory as well.

Bill Ball