|From the Fall 2011 issue of Knowing & Doing|
by William L. Kynes
But what are we to make of Jesus’ demanding call to discipleship in which we are to give up all that we have and take up our cross and follow him as our Lord? Doesn’t the Christian life entail discipline and a striving to do our duty before God? Aren’t we to run the race set before us, straining for what is ahead, seeking the prize (Heb. 12:1; 1 Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3:13–14)? Aren’t we to learn to obey all that Jesus taught us (Matt. 28:20)? Aren’t we morally obliged to seek holiness?
So which is it? How does this call to costly and obedient discipleship relate to the offer of free grace received by faith alone?
Some seek to resolve this tension by completely separating the two temporally and theologically. We first believe the gospel and are justified; then we respond to Christ’s call to discipleship and by our own efforts seek to be sanctified. We are first forgiven by faith, and then we are made holy by our own works.
In practice, this bifurcation often means that the second stage in this two-stage process is considered optional, resulting in the category known as “carnal Christians”—those who are justified but not sanctified, believers without obedience. This distortion of the gospel has been rightly labeled “cheap grace.” For others, who put all their stress on the rigors of following Jesus, the Christian life becomes spiritually dysfunctional and deadening, resulting in a frustrating return to the works of the law as the means to please God.
As in marriage, so in theology, much confusion results when we separate what God has joined together. In this article I hope to show that the gracious invitation of the gospel and the costly call to discipleship are not in contradiction but in sublime harmony when certain misperceptions are swept away. To hold these two together we must rightly understand the full scope of the gospel, the proper nature of saving faith, the profound work of the Holy Spirit, and finally the essential foundation of our Christian identity: our union with Christ.
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