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The problems of cheap grace: A wise virgin’s guide to waiting for the Bridegroom

It is wonderful when an evangelist comes to town and leads a revival service with large crowds, or a church is active in street evangelism, but there has been something that bothered me about revival meetings and street evangelism that has not received the attention that it is due. On the one hand I appreciate the zeal to reach people for the Lord, but on the other hand, it it seemed to me that this wasn’t enough. Something was missing. I believe that the missing elements are the cost of discipleship and the act of discipleship. When these things are missing from the development of new Christians, they can contribute to producing foolish virgins. Let’s begin with the cost of discipleship.

When Jesus told people the good news of salvation, He got one of three responses. Each time Jesus called on a person, they knew that His call meant leaving everything behind to follow Him. Sometimes people immediately left their nets to follow Him (Matt 4: 18-20), sometimes they asked for additional time so they could attend a funeral or say goodbye (Luke 9: 57-62), and sometimes they turned down the opportunity to follow Jesus (Mark 10: 17-22). Whatever the case, “follow me” clearly meant leave everything behind to serve Him:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:26-33 (ESV)

Apart from Him, all other considerations were to have the value of rubbish.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “When Christ bids a man to come, He bids him to come and die.” This is an accurate sentiment and expectation of discipleship. It expresses a Christianity in which we give up the right to live our own lives and own our own possessions. We transfer everything about our lives (the title deed of our life) to the Lord Jesus, and this is the true cost of discipleship. Unfortunately, in our zeal to get people saved, this expectation is oftentimes neglected when evangelists make their altar calls. I don’t know why people would omit this when speaking about the good news except that maybe they feel this would frighten people from listening. Perhaps the speaker feels he will sound “extreme” or too radical if he tells the audience they have to give up everything to follow Christ. Maybe the evangelist himself has never had this expectation made clear in his own life, so he does not pass on the information. After all, you cannot give what you don’t have. Those who grew up with this omission are in danger of becoming foolish virgins because since they don’t leave everything for Him, this creates a condition in which the new believer has divided loyalties. He hasn’t walked away from his fishing nets; he is at the funeral and saying goodbye to his family (Matt 4: 18-20; Luke 9: 57-62).

If a person is converted without knowing the true cost of discipleship, then they have been given “cheap grace” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say. Cheap grace doesn’t make any demands of holiness or total commitment on a believer (e.g. Mark 8: 34-38), it’s really laissez faire Christianity. Cheap grace is to Christianity what Burger King is to fast food: In both cases people get it the way they want it. Cheap grace leads a person to compartmentalize their life into personal and religious lives. Since the new believer is unaware of the true cost of discipleship, they do not know that everything belongs to the Lord. Even if they do learn about the true cost of discipleship, they will disregard it if it isn’t modeled in the lives of other believers. Consequently, they act like Jesus has only bought a timeshare in their life instead of purchasing their whole life. Since the title deed to their life did not really pass to Jesus, He is just the copilot, but they are still the pilot. They can therefore justify such thinking as “I have given some of my time and some of my money to the Lord, the remainder belongs to me.” Therefore, compartmentalization and Burger King Christianity are natural consequences of cheap grace. The result of cheap grace is a harvest of scorched and stunted plants that never yield a crop (Matt 13: 5-7, 20-22).

In order for the word of God to bear fruit for eternal life, it must fall upon the soil of a heart that is fully aware of the cost of discipleship and accepts it. This is the kind of heart that immediately leaves the nets and boats to follow the Lord. It is a living example of what full commitment to Jesus looks like, and it bears a harvest of thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. On the other hand, cheap grace is aptly named because it shortchanges everyone who lives by it. Cheap grace cannot ever be the soil that yields a harvest of thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold because the person raised by it has not given up the title deed to their life. Since there is no total commitment, it is at best a living example of being double minded. The seeds that fall on the soil of cheap grace are either scorched and withered, or they are choked by weeds. Those who are not fully committed to Jesus will find their lamps going out as they wait for the Bridegroom.

Cheap grace also neglects the command to make disciples. When a revival meeting occurs, or street evangelism, I have noticed that oftentimes they use a“catch and release” evangelism. What I mean is that they catch the fish, but instead of following up with discipleship, the new believers are released back to fend for themselves. The emphasis is on preaching the Gospel, but there is little to no provision to train these new believers with a solid program of discipleship. It’s like they say “well now that you’re saved, it’s up to you to work out the details. Good luck!” This is my personal experience, and I don’t think I am alone. This is not what the Lord intended. After the resurrection Jesus said:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matt 28:18-20 (ESV)

Let’s take a look at this and ask some questions.

Catch and release evangelism may produce many new believers, but it cannot produce many mature believers if they are left to fend for themselves. Mature believers are the result of discipleship, not from being left to their own devices. Unless they have had some kind of church background, new believers are not able to fend for themselves, and we should not expect them to do so. They need guidance from mature believers at this critical point in their new lives, and without discipleship they will be ill equipped to survive the enticements and attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. At least in the wild animals defend their young and teach them how to survive. If wild animals do this for their young, shouldn’t we do even more for those whom the Lord gave His life?

Let’s be honest. Is it reasonable to expect a new believer who has little or no knowledge of the Scriptures to know how to mature spiritually? Now that they are saved, do they even know they need someone to teach them the commandments of the Lord? Do they know that believers have a responsibility to disciple them? If they do know about discipleship, do they know where they can get the training they need? Do they know that not all churches are equal? There are poisonous churches in the world whose teachings end up making their converts twice as much the children of hell. Just because a building has “church” on it doesn’t mean its teachings are Christ centered (e.g. Westboro Baptist church). Who will tell them the difference if they are ignorant and left to fend for themselves? This is the tragedy of catch and release. This cheap grace is particularly destructive because it says on the one hand I love you enough to witness to you and get you saved, but not enough to invest my personal time and train you to be a mature Christian. There is something very wrong with this picture. There are many dangers that new believers needlessly face because there is no discipleship set to receive them and train them.

To be fair, I believe many of us are uncomfortable with training new believers because we have no template to draw from. After all, if no one gave us an example how to disciple a new believer, how can we give them what we never received? This is a question I ask myself because I am one of the catch and release survivors that wasn’t devoured by the roaring lion. There is a better way. It’s time to end the harm caused by cheap grace. Let’s agree that new believers must not be left to fend for themselves. The Lord told us to make disciples, so let’s do it! I encourage all my brothers and sisters to take time and pour your life into a new believer. The one who waters will himself be watered. Be Jesus to them. Don’t let the Adversary talk you out of this wonderful opportunity to help new believers become workmen who accurately handle the word of truth; you have a lot to offer new believers! Start them on the way that they should go, and they will not depart from it. No more cheap grace! We must help these fledglings to mature into wise virgins and help them avoid unprofitable teachings that produce foolish virgins.

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