Cheap grace means
the justification of sin
without the justification of the sinner.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship)
“I don’t want to!” screamed the red-faced six-year-old.
“You have to eat everything on your plate, or you can’t have any desert,” mom replied.
“Come on, take a bite.”
“I won’t, I won’t, I wont!”
“OK, just three more bites.”
Lyndsey spun her fork around in her fingers, stabbed one piece of chicken, and licked it.
“Lyndsey, I’m going to count to three. If you haven’t put that piece in your mouth by then, you’re going straight to your room.”
Lyndsey stuck out her tongue.
“I DON’T WANT TO EAT IT!”
“Fine. I’ll just give you your desert. Would that make you happy?”
We’ve all seen episodes like this. The child misbehaves; the parent threatens. The child ‘out-stubborns’ the parent; the parent capitulates. Punishment is often threatened, but never carried out.
. . .
Our God is not a weak-willed parent. He does not indulge the petty temper-tantrums of his kids. God gives ultimatums to his children like these:
- “If you will only obey the LORD your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1, NRSV).
- “But if you will not obey the LORD your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and over take you” (Deuteronomy 28:15, NRSV).
In the face of his clear instruction, we have the six-year-old audacity to stick out our tongues and continue on in our own selfish ways. Problem is, it didn’t work in Ezekiel’s time, and it will not work for us.
. . .
In this second of four sword oracles, Ezekiel asks his people to consider: “What! If you despise the rod, will it not happen” (v. 13)? Essentially: “Do you think Yahweh is like an earthly parent that will keep giving in to the selfish demands of headstrong children?”
The thing that leaves me flabbergasted every time I read about God’s judgment is this: God had Israel’s best interest in mind. God wasn’t looking for an excuse to torture and slaughter his own kids—that’s absurd! God was performing bloody surgery to exorcise a lethal tumor from his people. Many—very many—would die, but God would find a way to wake up his kids and turn their hearts back to him.
. . .
So what about us. Are we sticking out our tongues at God? In the words of Paul, do we “despise the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience (Romans 2:4, NRSV)? Do we think we can escape unscathed if we “neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3, NRSV)?
Grace by definition is vulnerable: it can be taken advantage of (like Jesus was). But for those of us who know what grace cost God, how can we ball our hands into fists shake them at heaven?
. . .
Merciful Lord, remind me again how much grace cost. When I am tempted, see me through to the other side. In Jesus’ name, Amen.