Vineyard Church | Weekly Update May 15, 2024

adam greenwell billings vineyard church dietrich bonhoeffer galatians weekly update May 15, 2024

We have a pretty awesome confluence of scripture and events to experience this coming Sunday.… We get to celebrate Pentecost, one of the three major celebrations for followers of Jesus, and we get to do it together, twice in one day! Our Pentecost Night of Worship event at Thirsty Street Brewing Company will be the perfect celebration of the birth of the Church and the receipt of the Holy Spirit.

Before that, at our normal Sunday gathering, we will be in Galatians 3, standing by while Paul reminds the Galatians of the transformation that occurs when we receive the Holy Spirit. With this reminder, we will move beyond the call away from legalism and see what discipleship looks like. As I have prepared for this, reading the words that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to pen in his letter, I find reflections of Paul in the writings and teachings of another leader, a man that took the call to serve Jesus so seriously, he was executed in a Nazi prison camp.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor that took his ordination seriously. As Hitler came to power, Bonhoeffer joined with other pastors to create the Confessing Church, a congregation that published the Barmen Declaration in 1934, stating their allegiance to Jesus, as well as rejecting the acceptance of false teachers, powers, and personalities…not a declaration that the Nazis appreciated.

Bonhoeffer’s most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship, is the work that first gave me parallels with Paul. In this work, Bonhoeffer contrasts free grace with cheap grace, a rebuke to churches and leaders that looked for the easy path forged by conformity to culture. An often quoted passage of this work states that “Cheap Grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession… Cheap grace is without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

I love this quote but hate how bad leaders, like the ones Paul is railing against in his letter to the Galatians, misrepresent the truth of this teaching as a way to force behavior, rules, and regulations. The problem with a doctrine of cheap grace is that some think the answer is to make grace costly…and truthfully, it is costly…for Jesus.

What Bonhoeffer is teaching is not a works-based path to grace but the realization that when we choose to follow Jesus and experience the filling of the Holy Spirit, we are changed. This transformation beckons us to a right relationship with God that leads us to a desire to repent; a thirst for discipline (not a synonym for punishment); and taking communion in the manner it was intended, as a rededication to the ministry of reconciliation that includes confessing where we fall short.

Discipleship is the journey that trains us to experience the transformation as we grow in relationship with Jesus. As this relationship grows, we take action because we are like Him, not because we are trying to earn His approval. The closer we get, the more we trust Him, which means we are better able to experience the reality of free grace.

One place where we can apply this reality is in the knowledge of forgiveness evidenced by how we pray. In Bonhoeffer’s work on praying the Psalms, he says this:

More seldom than we expect the prayer for the forgiveness of sins meets us in the Psalms. Most Psalms presuppose complete assurance of the forgiveness of sins. That may surprise us. But even in the New Testament the same thing is true. It is an abbreviation and an endangering of Christian prayer if it revolves exclusively around the forgiveness of sins. There is such a thing as the confident leaving behind of sin for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Where does this confidence come from? Faith that grows from the transformative experience of being filled by the Holy Spirit and responding to the reality of free grace by engaging in the journey of discipleship. On Sunday, we celebrate this together!

Adam Greenwell
Pastor | Billings Vineyard Church

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