Costly Grace

Somehow many people have the strange notion that the Old and New Testaments are opposed and that Jesus supposedly came to get rid of all that Law stuff and preach a gospel where “all we have to do is love each other.” In reality, Christ did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it. And we who hope to follow him, though we certainly do well to rejoice in the freedom of Christ, must also remember that Christ frees us to transcend the Law, not to break it.

Evidence for this is seen in this many Scripture readings. Wisdom essentially says, “If it’s tough just keeping a bead on mundane earthly matters, who can possibly hope to know anything about heaven?” We can all relate to this. Math, science, and history were a big enough challenge for most of us, even when we had tons of readily available information right at our fingertips and could even see what we are talking about with our own two eyes. If such concrete, staring-us-in-the-face things are so hard to grasp, what are we supposed to do when it comes to learning about God? Wisdom makes the answer clear: we can’t do it without the help of God’s Holy Spirit.

This is a jolt for those who see the Old and New Testaments pitted against one another. For Wisdom is here saying pretty much what Jesus does. The Holy Spirit enables us, not to flout the law, but to keep it. All the New Testament does is make clear just how the Blessed Trinity who inspired Wisdom is going to ultimately do that. He is going to do it by making us like Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate and the perfect expression of what the life of God (sketched by the Law) looks like when lived out by a human being.

This is why Jesus has to emphasize that, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, grace is “free, not cheap.” Yes, Jesus frees us from the “works of the law” as Paul reminds us. The ceremonial reminders of our sinfulness and need for redemption are no longer necessary when Redemption has been crucified and raised for us. Why? For the same reason the sign pointing us to the train is no longer necessary when we’ve arrived at the train station. But now it is necessary to get on the train. The fare is free, but not cheap. Jesus bought the ticket, but it won’t do us any good if we don’t stay on the train. And to stay on the train, we must do, not whatever we like, but what Jesus commands.

That’s why Jesus bids us “count the cost”. Discipleship is costly. It will cost us all we love, all we have, and all we are to imitate him. Those who swear to follow Jesus are, paradoxically, sometimes rebuked with the same sternness as those who obstinately refuse to follow him. That’s because, to put it simply, Jesus isn’t kidding around. He means us to get to heaven with him. But getting there will require a commitment which none of us, simply relying on our own charm, pluck, and innate goodness, can ever make. Peter discovered this when he promised “I will never deny you” and found out what he was really made of a few hours later. Problem is: we’re all made out of the same stuff as Peter. There’s no way, humanly speaking, we can be real disciples of Jesus–unless we acknowledge that and ask for the help of his Spirit.

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