Vineyard Church | Weekly Update May 29, 2024

adam greenwell billings vineyard church cheap grace dietrich bonhoeffer extremes free grace galatians weekly update May 29, 2024

Mountain Dew and Taco Bell, fuel for life…for me as a middle schooler. Man, these two things together made existence worth existing. All things could be made right with the proper application of that lightningy tasting, fluorescent yellow nectar of the gods. And a whole mess of the finest Mexican food a 12-year-old could appreciate gave life a flavor only the true connoisseur would know. Also, these two companies were genius in their marketing, using the idea of the extremity to make me think that assaulting my gullet with their concoctions made me different, bold, and an embracer of living on the edge…so much so that I could hear Aerosmith playing in the background every time I took a sip or made the crunch of my $00.69 taco.

For a select group of Turner Middle School students, Wednesday evenings in the wintertime created a confluence of fine cuisine and extreme activities. We had a rock-climbing club that would meet at a climbing gym with our favorite teacher, another practitioner of the extreme. After demonstrating our prowess on the wall, we would stop at Taco Bell for some late evening nutrition…if we could talk the mom driving the carpool into stopping (I now realize how much the mom carpool angle cuts into the image of extreme living on the edge).

This culture of extremity has been a huge part of my life as I have found myself to be an adrenaline junky. The more limits I pushed, the more “normal” pushing limits became, leading to a need to do more edgy and unintelligent things to maintain that extreme. This all came to a culmination point with that nasty beast known as maturity, the killjoy of the ‘Murican adolescent male.

My awareness of this thing, maturity, came from an odd direction. I realized that after the experience of riding in helicopters and air-cushioned landing craft, roller coasters no longer raised my pulse; they were shrug-worthy at best. Because the exciting was no longer exciting, my desires became more mainstream, normal, and, to the living-on-the-edge 12-year-old trapped in the body of a bifocal-wearer, boring. Mountain Dew and Taco Bell have been relegated to the wastebasket of my culinary urges, joining the zealous pursuit of extremes as something worked out of my identity.

What this has helped me articulate is that it was more than just adrenaline-seeking that sent me to extremes; I lived most of my life in extremes. I think this is a common practice for those attempting to follow Jesus, and we see this in the behavior of the Galatians that Paul is writing to correct. Some bad leaders with abusive teaching came to Galatia and sent the collective congregations into a race to the extreme as they attempted to find relationship with God through their own individual efforts.

We have been tracking with Paul as he is dismantling this extreme position in the book of Galatians, but we also must be aware of another potentially extreme response. Just as the Galatian pendulum swung to a legalist, works-based system of righteousness, a dangerous response to this would be applying a remedy that would swing back to the other extreme, turning free grace into cheap grace as defined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“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.”

How do we, as maturing followers of Jesus, abandon the pendulum altogether and find the path towards wholeness? How do we maintain free grace without the temptation to the extremes of costly grace and cheap grace? How do we, in the words of Vineyard theologian Bill Jackson, stay on the quest for the radical middle?

Paul is leading the Galatians back to the answer Jesus gave to that question; have faith that God has a plan that he has not and will not alter, believe that you have a place in that plan, and know that your place in that plan is secured not by your own work or worthiness but by the blood of Jesus spilled for you.

That faith launches us on the adventure that forms us into our role as image-bearers of the Living God. Discipleship, the act of becoming more like Jesus, leads us to the place where we do the stuff Jesus did because we are led to care about the things Jesus cares about. That path is what Paul lays out for us in the weeks ahead, and I am looking forward to a quest for the radical middle with you.

Adam Greenwell
Pastor | Billings Vineyard Church

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