Dietrich Bonheoffer saw the church abandoning Christ in two ways and both are as prevalent today as they were in Bonheoffer's generation.
First, Bonhoeffer says the church has reduced the gospel to a set of burdensome rules, the antithesis of the easy yoke we should find in Jesus. We've loaded the gospel down with so many extra-biblical routines and regulations--a real Christian ought to, has to, must do--that it is difficult for anyone to find the real Jesus, let alone make a clear and conscious decision to follow Christ.
We proclaim a religion of rules, which appeals to our prideful desire to show God we're good enough for his kingdom. We make our legal lists and that makes us legalists. Essentially, we're teaching people they have to work their way up to God's standard of righteousness, which challenges the very Word of God, who is the crucified and resurrected Jesus. It is a hopeless proposition and God meant it to be so--he wants us to understand that we can't because only Jesus can.
When we keep insisting that, through our behaviors and our attitudes, we can match godly standards of righteousness, is it any wonder why the world sees Jesus as insignificant?
Second, Bonhoeffer says we've wrapped the gospel in a sense of false hopes, using the doctrine of grace as an excuse for shallow discipleship and a pervasive acceptance of sin in the Body of Christ. Grace is meant to justify the sinner; yet, we use it to justify our sins. In other words, we've taken "I am a sinner saved by grace" and turned it into "I can sin because of grace."
Because of this, we've become satisfied with discipleship as mere Bible study, maybe a weekly prayer breakfast, and for the really committed, a handful of rules to follow that make us feel and look particularly pious.
In either case--a burdensome religion or a presumptive attitude on grace--we end up practicing a religion far removed from the intimate relationship God wants us to have with Jesus Christ.
Jesus brings us grace and truth -- On the surface, both these extremes look a bit like following Jesus, but my friend and long-time spiritual mentor Steve Pettit says they both attempt to do the impossible: the first tries to separate grace from truth and the second tries to separate truth from grace--either way, it only creates a monumental mess where, instead of becoming monuments to God's grace, we become monuments to our own foolish pride.
The apostle John tells us that Jesus is full of grace and truth and, now that we have the life of Christ present in our lives, we are full of grace and truth (John 1:14-16). Jesus holds them together in us just as they are held together in him. Pettit says legalists like to dismiss grace while those unrestrained by grace (licentious) want to disregard truth.
Since Jesus embodies the unity of God's Word (truth) and God's activity (grace), we're quickly greeted by the spirit of error when we try to process either grace or truth apart from the person of Jesus Christ. On the one hand, when we seek life and freedom by following the rules (laws, principles, truths separate from grace), we easily slip into legalism. How do we know when this has happened?
Says Pettit, "Grace will be seen as license; it will sound like heresy." On the other hand, when we seek life and freedom in self-determination, in choosing whatever feels or seems good, when we become unrestrained by grace (licentious), Pettit says truth will be seen as "law." Truth sounds like legalism if we are abusing grace.
We're meant to seek life and freedom only in Jesus Christ. The fullness of both grace and truth are in him. His grace is always truthful; his truth is forever gracious. There is no way to have the fullness of grace and truth apart from him. He didn't come to show us ways of grace and truth or give us definitions of grace and truth. He came to be all the grace and all the truth we will ever need and to freely offer both to us in the gift of himself.
If I am full of grace, there is no excuse for legalism in my life (Matthew 23:4;
11:28-30). If I am full of truth, there is no excuse for unrestraint (licentiousness) either (Matthew 5:17-20; John 8:11).
As we follow Jesus, we find he consistently moves us toward a choice--and then he commands us to make the choice: Will you believe I am adequate to meet your needs or not? Will you let me be myself in and through you or not?
We must look to Jesus and no where else for our answers. We must know a Christ who is real and solid, and this knowing doesn't come from conveniently memorizing Bible facts or comfortably studying theological systems. It comes in the willingness to pay the cost of knowing him and sacrificially living out of what we believe to be true of him.
Jesus wants you to know him. He wants you to live an extraordinary life, full of grace and truth. He calls you to a miraculous life, one that requires edge-of-your-seat faith to follow him, where you find yourself asking in joy, "What's next, Jesus? What are you going to do though me today?"
You can have that. Jesus calls, you must respond. My prayer is that this book will help you see the simplicity of following Jesus while also helping you understand the cost of such discipleship.