Posts tagged ‘Righteousness’

The Cost of Following Jesus, Part Two

This is part two of a three-part series.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? There are those who have come before us who have understood clearly that we follow Jesus at some price. German pastor and theologian Dietrich Boenhoeffer was one who understood this very clearly. Bonhoeffer was among the few in the German church who publically opposed the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler. Although friends in England got him out of Germany, his conscience told him that he could have no part in helping to rebuild and heal Germany after the war ended if he did not share in his fellow Germans’ sufferings. His leadership within the state Church the Nazi party was trying to destroy, and his close ties to individuals who plotted to assassinate Hitler led to Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment in a concentration camp and eventual death by hanging.

The writings of Bonhoeffer can be a bit weighty. I’ll go so far as to let you know that outside of the Bible, I have not read any work as convicting as his best known work, The Cost of Discipleship. Although first published in 1937 it is almost frighteningly contemporary in the topic it addresses, especially when set against our post-modern culture. Bonhoeffer lambasted the idea that intellectual assent to belief in Jesus was sufficient. In speaking to the true price of following Jesus, Bonhoeffer decried what he saw as “cheap grace.” Cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer, “means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.”

Let me break this down for you, because this is something that has become pervasive. We continue to battle today in the Church against the idea that you can say “I believe in Jesus, and I know he forgives my sins,” and yet not turn away from that sin! The cheap grace Bonhoeffer wrote of is a grace that is assigned to us by ourselves, not by God. It’s a grace that requires no change in our lives. We have those who profess themselves Christians today who have bought this hook, line, and sinker without any knowledge of how false it truly is. Cheap grace means proclaiming yourself forgiven without ever having bothered to throw yourself on your face before the Lord and repenting of your wickedness. Cheap grace means proclaiming yourself a saint without having bothered to give up being a sinner. Bonhoeffer called it “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” What a sad, pathetic “grace”.

The rich young ruler sought a cheap form of grace. While his desire to gain eternal life may have been genuine, he wanted it on his own terms. He mistook the outward display of righteousness – following the commandments – for righteousness itself. For him, it was simply about following a list of rules. When presented with God’s terms, when asked to turn his whole life over to God, he turned away. But it doesn’t work that way. We cannot come up with Christianity on our own terms.

You cannot call yourself Christian and continue to live a sinful lifestyle. Simply saying that you believe in Jesus does not make you a Christian, anymore than walking into Taco Bell makes you a chalupa, people. If you are Christian, the life you lead must reflect that. If you are Christian, you cannot continue to fill your head with all manner of ungodly things from TV or movies or magazines. A Christian lives a life in which they die to self. A Christian seeks a life of service, not a life of self-gratification. A Christian lives a life in which they allow the Holy Spirit to be their guide … not the prevailing culture.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? In 1945, the Communist party in Romania convened a conference of 4,000 of the country’s religious leaders. Many of these leaders, afraid for their lives, proclaimed that there was no difference between Christianity and Communism – despite the fact that in every country where it had taken root, Communism had dedicated itself to destroying faith in Jesus. In the midst of this shameful display, a pastor named Richard Wurmbrand took the stage and proclaimed, “Delegates, it is our duty not to praise earthly powers that come and go, but to glorify God the Creator and Christ the Savior, who died for us on the cross.”

Richard Wurmbrand would spend much of the next 20 years in prison for his faith, where he was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and brainwashed.

“When we were first put into solitary confinement,” he wrote, “it was like dying. Everyone of us lived again his past sins and his neglects of duties. We all had an unimaginable pain in our hearts thinking that we had not done our utmost for the Highest, for the One who has given His life for us on the Cross.”

“After years of solitary confinement, we were put together in huge cells, sometimes with 200 0r 300 prisoners in each cell. I will not tell you the whole truth, because you could not bear to hear it. But this I will tell. Christian prisoners were beaten, then tied on crosses for four days and four nights without interruption. The Communists then stood around them, jeering and mocking, ‘Look at your Christ, how beautiful He is, what fragrances He brings from heaven.’ Then they kicked the other prisoner, forcing them to kneel down and to adore and worship this besmeared living crucifix.”

Years later, Wurmbrand would describe how he was kept imprisoned for so long, without a book to read or paper to write on, that when he was eventually released and had to write again, he could not remember how to write a capital D. In 1965, after his final release from prison, Wurmbrand testified in Washington, D.C., before the United States Senate. Many of the Senators would remember with horror for years the moment that Pastor Wurmbrand stripped to the waist and revealed eighteen deep torture wounds. Until the day he died, he could not wear shoes for any great length of time, because his feet had been so damaged by the tortures he endured.

At the beginning of his time in prison, Wurmbrand was ordered to write out a confession of all the Communist rules he had broken. Although he willingly signed, he ended with a declaration that he had never spoken against his torturers, saying that He was a disciple of Christ, who had given him love for his enemies. He wrote also that he prayed for their conversion, that they might be his brothers.

The Communist officer who had forced him to write his confession jeered at this declaration, telling Wurmbrand that this was a Christian commandment that no one could keep. Wurmbrand’s reply to this man who had the power to have him killed in an instant was simply, “It’s not a matter of keeping a commandment. When I became a Christian, it was as if I had been reborn, with a new character full of love. Just as only water can flow from a spring, so only love can come from a loving heart.”

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand had many other encounters with that particular officer during his time in prison, and in time would come to have the privilege of leading the officer to Christ, but that is a story for another time. Today, I want to talk about the price that Richard Wurmbrand was willing to pay for following Jesus. When we consider the cost of his following Jesus, there was nothing cheap about it. Wurmbrand lost years of his life, not just in terms of time with his wife, family, and friends, but in his very health. At any moment, it could all have been restored to him, simply by acceding to the Communist wishes that he stop proclaiming the Word of God. Yet Wurmbrand was willing even that he should lose His life in order to truly follow Jesus.

The third and final part of this series will examine more about how Bonhoeffer and Wurmbrand accepted the cost, and conclude with some questions and challenges about whether you or I are doing the same.

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Second Sunday of Advent

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

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