At 2. Chronicles 7: 14., we find this famous text: ‘If my people, who are called by my Name, humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land’.
In this text, we see a seven-part process, taking place. The first four parts are the responsibility of mankind. Before God will respond, and act, there must be…humbling ... praying ... seeking ... and turning.
Only when those four stages have been undertaken, will God step in, and share in the process, with … hearing, … forgiving, and healing.
In the main, the average Christian man or woman does not seem to have much concept of process; let alone of personal responsibility for at least half of what the process entails.
Instead; and probably quite unintentionally; most Christians appear to expect direct, and immediate, access to God; with prayer being seen as the sole thing needed to gain that access ...
... and with the further expectation, of God taking responsibility; and getting down to answering that prayer as quickly as possible.
If we could secretly 'listen-in', to someone asking God for forgiveness, in a particular matter, I believe that we are likely to find…
… that the 'humbling' part of the process, has been largely, or completely, ignored; because most Christians have developed a fairly set idea, and habit, of getting down to prayer right away.
Because of this feeling; that prayer must be got down to, right away; the 'seeking' part of the process is also largely, or completely, ignored, in any concentrated, on-going manner,
This is usually because the person doing the praying considers that the prayer itself is 'seeking' enough; and that no other seeking, beyond the prayer, is needed.
This sort of attitude also applies to the 'turning from their wicked ways' part of the process. The average church-attending Christian will not seriously consider that they have any 'wicked ways'...
... and will, mostly, see any particular need for forgiveness, as being an aberration ... a ‘blip’ ... a one-off thing, unlikely to be repeated; and, therefore, not habitual; not part of a ‘wicked way’ that needs to be ‘turned from’.
Within that sort of thinking, there can lurk a sense of injustice; that anyone could ever have considered them to be having any truck with 'wickedness’ .
If we are still, secretly, 'listening-in', to someone asking for forgiveness; we are likely to find that their fullest attention, perhaps all of it; will be given to the ‘praying', rather than to the Christian’s responsibility to follow the whole process that God lays down for us.
There is a sense in which all of this is not very surprising; for, throughout much or most of our lives, from tots in Sunday School, through adult and mature years ...
... plenty of emphasis has been given to our need to pray; and, in comparison, very little emphasis has been placed upon those things which (so the text tells us) must not only accompany, but also precede the prayer ...
...... the humbling ... the seeking ... and the turning-away from that which offends God, and troubles us.
Equally little emphasis, has been given to the fact that, very often, the humbling, the seeking, and the turning-away, are, themselves, the very things that will meet our needs, and answer the prayer.
With so much emphasis on the need to pray, has come a similar emphasis on the need to get on with things, and to actually pray, and to get forgiven, or to receive whatever it is that we ask for.
Although 'getting on with things', and 'getting down to prayer', has its very proper place; we must never allow worldly thinking to cut against Bible-teaching, and to mislead us.
We must never allow indecent haste, to rob us of our understanding of what God requires in this matter ...
... and his requirements of us, set out in an Old Testament text, are confirmed by Jesus in his New Testament teaching.
Perhaps Christ's most-to-the-point teaching, in this matter of process, is his ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’.
However, we often look at this parable in a very particular, and biassed- towards-ourselves way.
We marvel at the manner in which the father received his son back again. The father had been sinned against. He had every right to be angry, and to demand some sort of retribution ...
... yet he was so gracious, and forgiving, instead. He met his errant child at least half-way, and restored him into relationship, even more fully than before he had sinned.
We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ told the parable, and used the images of 'father' and 'son', to point to us having strayed to some spiritual 'far-country'...
... and having been forgiven our mistakes and sins, by our Heavenly Father, because he loves us so very much. All of this is true, but, if we leave things at that, we completely overlook the process which made the forgiveness possible and effective ....
... we can easily overlook the humbling... the seeking ... and the turning-back, which preceded the forgiveness.
Overlooking, or even ignoring, the humbling ... the seeking ... and the turning-back; and behaving as though these things can be assumed to be in place; and taken for granted ...
... is to take the costly grace of God's redemption of us, in Christ; and to cheapen it.
Few people, if any, would deliberately cheapen God's grace; yet it is so easy to slip into such an attitude; without really realizing that it has happened.
Anyone who 'gets down to prayer', without any wider thought, than the desired answer to it ...
... and does not undertake the necessary preliminaries, spelled out by the Old and New Testaments ... risks treating God like a shopkeeper …
... who, having been asked to supply something, is expected to do so without too many questions, and with as little delay as possible.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said something along these lines in his famous book called: ‘The Cost of Discipleship’.
There he touches upon Christians, and their churches, 'cheapening' the grace of God, and losing much, or most of its power in their lives; and here is a quotation, taken from pages 35 – 37:-
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today, for costly grace.
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market, like a cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments; the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion, are thrown away, at cut prices.
Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessing with generous hands; without asking questions, or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!
The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be, if it were not cheap?
Cheap grace, means grace as a doctrine; a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God.
An intellectual assent to that idea, is held to be sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct definition of grace, has, it is supposed, ipso facto, a part in that grace.
In such a Church, the world finds a cheap covering for its sin; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore, amounts to a denial of the living Word of God; in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin, without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain, as it was before.
This is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin, without the justification of the repentant sinner, who departs from sin, and from whom sin departs.
Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin, which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace that we bestow on ourselves.
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.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in a field, for the sake of which, a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price, to buy which, the merchant will sell all his goods.
It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ, at which the disciple leaves his nets, and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel, which must be sought again and again; the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly, because it calls us to follow; and it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs a man his life; and it is grace, because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly, because it condemns sin; and grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly, because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘you were bought with a price’; and what has cost God much, cannot be cheap for us.
Above all, it is grace, because God did not reckon his Son to be a price to great to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.