Saturday, April 29, 2017

Life by Grace by Linden Malki

It is very easy, in today's world, or any day's world for that matter, to talk about "love" and "grace" without judgment and responsibility. Paul, in 2 Timothy, lists situations where it is necessary to do things right in order to get the results you need.  It is easy to have good motives, but if your efforts don't accomplish anything useful, you have wasted your time.  The point is not to merely feel bad about your sins, repent and accept grace, and then go back to the same way you were living.  You're still stuck with your old self.

Keeping in mind the background of St Paul's prison letters, we should realize that the world we live in today is more like the world he lived in than perhaps any period before or since.  But in one way it is even more dramatic: the numbers of Christian martyrs was greater in the 20th Century (estimated at about 70 million) than in all the centuries since the first--and that doesn't include war casualties and other deaths not involving religious identity.  This has happened all over the world; the Middle East, China, Russia, and more. We know of the 6 million Jews who disappeared during the Nazi years, but most people don't realize that another 6 million Christians disappeared as well. One of the best-known martyrs in Germany at that time was a young Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   He had come from a prominent family, and was developing a reputation as a preacher, theologian and writer by the age of 24, not only in Germany but in New York and England.  He realized even before Hitler came to power that this was a movement that intended to become a counterfeit god in Europe, and establish an idolatry based on the power of man. He became part of a group of churches that resisted collaboration with the Nazis, and at one point was taken to the US by friends who thought he would be safer outside of Germany, but he realized that his place was back with the German people in what he knew would be a time of trial. He was a pacifist, but decided that it was not enough to avoid the war, but that the spiritual fate of Germany depended upon the defeat of the Nazis, and became part of a movement to destroy the Nazi government. He, his sister and her husband were arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. In prison, he was able to inspire, comfort, and minister to other prisoners, and even some of the guards, who smuggled his writings out of prison. He was hanged by the express command of Himmler, just a few days before the prison he was in was liberated by the Allies.

One of Bonhoeffer's major books is "The Cost of Discipleship", in which he talks about grace as not cheap. "It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life." * He also wrote about obedience: "He who believes is obedient; and only who is obedient believes." * He pointed out that our record of Jesus' call to his disciples was very simple: "Follow me." No begging, no bribes, no threats. "Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and demand obedience to his Word. Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as Christ, the Son of God." *

One of his most unforgettable statements is "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Like St Paul, he believed with his whole being that his call was to follow Jesus, even at the cost of his earthly life.
*The Cost of Discipleship p47. p69, p62

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