Ever since I have been a Christian, one thing has bothered me... it has been in every facet of my life, in every new undertaking, in every relationship, in every corner, hidden or seen, in everything that has ever happened in my walk with Christ. This thing that bothers me is this: the feeling that there is something more. When I read in the New Testament Gospels and especially in Acts, I see one thing: the Spirit moving in power. Lives were changed, people were healed, demons fled. The early church did not move in arrogant power based on man's ideas for man's gain due to man's greed. The early church moved in divine endowment from on high, in divine power for God's glory due to divine purposes. The one thing that you will see, from a communal sense, in the early church that you will not see in a majority of churches today is this: obedience.
I know my obedience is not absolute. That is not to say that I live in blatant disobedience, but I have reached a level of comfortable obedience. That level has left me on the inside of my own house looking at the outside world through the small, distorted view of the peephole the door contains. I can see, for the most part, anything that would assume to threaten my safe existence within my home, but as far as having a clear view of the world outside my home, I don't have it.
I have recently begun (as of this morning) Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "The Cost of Discipleship." Needless to say, I cannot put it down. I could just quote the whole book, it is that good. But one paragraph convicted me to a point of conviction I have seldom felt. Here it is:
"And as he passed by he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. (Mark 2:14)
The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. How could the call immediately evoke obedience? The story is a stumbling-block for the natural reason, and it is no wonder that frantic attempts have been made to separate the two events. By hook or by crook a bridge must be found between them. Something must have happened in between, some psychological or historical event. Thus we get the stupid question: Surely the publican must have known Jesus before, and that previous acquaintance explains his readiness to hear the Master's call. Unfortunately our text is ruthlessly silent on this point, and in fact it regards the immediate sequence of call and response as a matter of crucial importance. It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reasons for a man's religious decision. And why? For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once. This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus. There is no need of any preliminaries, and no other consequence but obedience to the call. Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God. In this short text Jesus Christ and his claim are proclaimed to men. Not a word of praise is given to the disciple for his decision for Christ. We are not expected to contemplate the disciple, but only him who calls, and his absolute authority. According to our text, there is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road -- only obedience to the call of Jesus."
What truth there is to this matter above! Let us imagine, as parents, that our child is in a life or death situation. Let us say that there is a fire in the home, and the only way the child will be safe is to jump from a window into your arms. You call. The child will either answer or not. But it isn't enough for the child to just answer. It logically does not make sense for a child to jump from a second story window. However, given the life and death circumstances, your call stands against reason for the survival of the child. When you tell the child to jump, they can either be obedient and land in your arms, or disobey and perish in the flames. Our spiritual lives are not so different from this. The house represents the life that God has given us, in the world that God has given us. The fire represents the effects of sin on an otherwise safe and secure setting. Jesus, having passed through the flames and already standing outside, calls. We are all standing in the midst of flames. Many of us hear the call. Some jump instantly, being fully obedient to Christ. Some hear the call, but are still considering the jump. Because of their indecisiveness, they are beginning to have breathing problems due to the smoke, and the heat is making them sweat. They are starting to lose coherence, and the call is diminishing. Their ability to jump by obedience into safety is slowly being consumed by the flames about them. Still others choose to completely ignore the call to safety and obstinately perish in the flames. Their choice to perish in no way signifies that the call hasn't been made..... over and over and over.
What has been lacking in my life since I became a Christian is pure, unhindered, full obedience to Christ. It is what the church itself is lacking today as a whole. Sure, we have programs and whatnot, but a majority of those programs are programs to help us feel better about not being fully obedient. Full obedience to the call does not mean that we never falter or stumble in our faith. The disciples who were fully obedient to the call of Christ were gone at His crucifixion. Not one of them was present. However, it was on these very same apostles and disciples of Christ that the church began. Faith is refined in the fire. Obedience is understood at times in a much deeper, more impacting way through fault and failure. The wealth of obedience is learned best through the shame of disobedience.
Obedience does not bring praise or fame. It brings suffering, and at times, death. Look at the New Testament. Those who were fully obedient to the call of Christ knew one thing: their lives were no longer their own. They followed the call into suffering, and more often than not, unto death. Did they count it a waste? Have you read anywhere in Scripture or outside writings that any of the disciples regretted their lives, or losing their lives for the One who saved theirs? We live with regret because we are not obedient. For me personally, I can only say this, "I am trying to receive the life of Christ while failing to fully yield my life to Christ." Now, just to clarify, I am not saying that salvation has anything to do with me or my works. Salvation is by grace through faith. There is no other way. I cannot sneak in secretly through my "works." I simply mean that I say I want to fulfill Christ's all for my life, yet I resist to be fully and completely obedient to Him. How many of us are complacent in our "part-time, percentage-based" obedience to Christ? What would happen if we understood the message of the New Testament as this: Salvation, while free and by Christ alone, asks obedience? When I read the Bible, I see nowhere where it says, "Ye are saved, now do what you want." Yet that is what the church lives like. We sell ourselves short every day. One of the greatest lies we can ever believe is that we are expected to sin. Does this mean that we live without sin? Even the greatest stumble. But to give into or set ourselves up to sin because "it is our nature" even after salvation is a lie from the devil.
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave His life for me." Galatians 2:20.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!" 2 Corinthians 5:17.
"Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him." Colossians 2:12-15.
"Greater is He that is in me, that he that is of the world." 1 John 4:4.
"For they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, for they did not loves their lives, even unto the death." Revelation 12:11.
"Though a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered." Hebrews 5:8
The Call of Christ:
"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
Bonhoeffer, earlier in the chapter, says:
"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him... 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. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," 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 a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."
And finally, Bonhoeffer says:
"But do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang? The price we are having to pay to-day in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost. We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard. Where were those truths which impelled the early Church to institute the catechumenate, which enabled a strict watch to be kept over the frontier between the Church and the world, and afforded adequate protection for costly grace? What had happened to all those warnings of Luther's against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make men rest secure in their ungodly living? Was there ever a more terrible or disastrous instance of the Christianizing of the world than this? What are those three thousand Saxons put to death by Charlemagne compared with the millions of spiritual corpses in our country to-day? With us it has been abundantly proved that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generations. Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church."
We lack power because we lack obedience.