What’s Up Wednesday: What P.I.P.E. are You Smoking?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German preacher and theologian who helped the Christians endure the opposition and persecution of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany wrote one of the most influential books of the 20th century, The Cost of Discipleship. If that book, he wrote a paragraph about ‘cheap grace,’ that is, a grace that is all about receiving all the benefits of Christianity (heaven, eternal life, forgiveness of sin, etc.) but not wanting the cost. He wrote this:

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.

Bonhoeffer wrote this in the middle of Germany’s persecution from the government in 1937, but what he writes here is timeless. This quote provokes some questions:

  • Forgiveness we love, but do we really want to turn from sin that strays from what God wants?
  • We like being a part of the church–but do we want the church to provide discipline and boundaries and to keep you accountable?
  • We love how taking the Lord’s Supper ministers to us, but do we do so with a humble and confessing heart?
  • We love grace, but are we willing to be and make hopeful, joyful disciples that are growing in the things of God?
  • We love the empty tomb, but are we willing to have grace that brings the picture of our sin at the cross of Christ right to our front door?

I do not know of anyone who likes pain. I get the sniffles or a little headache and I’m ready to go to bed for two weeks. Somewhere along the way we believed that any kind of pain or discomfort was always a bad thing. That we are ones who are the recipients and beneficiaries of God’s blessings and assume that is a love for God Himself.

The cost of being and making hopeful, joyful disciples is an exchange of life (yours for His). The cost of being and making hopeful, joyful disciples is realizing two things:

  1. There is no joy like the joy of Jesus in rescuing us from our sin and our brokenness (see 1 John 1:4).
  2. There is no hope like the hope we have in strengthening us in the midst of trouble (John 16:33).

When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin (that is, the Jewish Supreme Court) in Acts 4, they did this even though the 40-year old man they healed was standing right among them. The Sanhedrin were smoking a pipe that many in our day smoke as well:

Power: Many of our churches are filled with power brokers. They are descendants of this group of people here. They would pray outloud in public with ornate robes so people would see their spirituality. They also would silence anyone who spoke against them (just look at the cross of Christ).

Influence: They influenced the direction of the entire culture. They intimidated, and folks around them were deathly afraid of being excommunicated by them.

Position: They loved their position. Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:1-12 (NET):

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long. 6They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’ 8 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. 9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. ©NET

Education: Their rabbinical schools were rigorous. You had to have a dizzying intellect to pass. These folks loved their degree! (I wonder what they would say to Charles Spurgeon or A.W. Tozer, who never graduated from seminary?)

Yet in Acts 4:8, what did Peter have? “And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit…” and then he proceeded to wax them truthfully and lovingly. “Uneducated and common?” Yes, but “they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Granted, Luke may have meant they were part of his rabbinical cohort, but another meaning could apply to them and to us.

Many today are smoking a pipe rather than seeking the Spirit. They love power and the powerful, they love to influence to their ideas and agendas, they love having a title and position, and hold education as a premium.

But what about closeness to God? Fullness of the Spirit? Pursuit of Christ? You see, when you start smoking that pipe, even if the truth is in front of you, you will still hold on to what you have because you would rather have your identity rather than have your identity be hid in Christ!

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