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Costly Grace and Living Free From Lust

Last Updated: May 17, 2021

Brian Gardner

Brian Gardner leads the Sexual Integrity ministry at Xenos Christian Fellowship. By day, he works as a software developer; the rest of the time he leads a college home group, teaches classes on pornography addiction for men, does pastoral counseling, and tries to find time once in a while to play some golf. Brian has been married for almost 35 years and is the proud father of two grown kids (and grandfather to one grandson). He blogs at “Bought With a Price."

“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ… Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has… 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… 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.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

In order to throw off the fetters of pornography, we must know, understand, and come under the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This goes without saying; you cannot be free from the shame and guilt of violating your own conscience without knowing the mercy of God. But what does His grace really mean to us? To some, grace is nothing more than a free ride into heaven. Does the fact that I’m under grace mean that I can continue in sin and be forgiven? The Bible’s astonishing answer to that is yes—grace is not really grace unless it can be used to excuse license. But that is a little like saying that you can use a king’s scepter to dig a latrine—asking the question “can I sin all I want” shows that we don’t understand the cost of grace. This is what Bonhoeffer meant by “cheap grace.”

Apart from the grace of God through Jesus Christ, there is no recovery from the bondage of porn, no real return from the darkness that lurks in our sinful hearts. But the fact that I won’t be punished for my sin cannot be the basis of my life. Christ did not set me free so I could sin freely, or even so that I could be morally good—He liberated me for Himself, to come into a relationship. Bonhoeffer says it beautifully when he says, “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”

To follow Christ means to obey Him.

Is this the Law again? Is this moralistic self-effort? Did we just find the “cost” of grace? No, we have found the joy of being like He was, like the one who did his Father’s will because it delighted him, who would not speak on his own initiative because he rejoiced in the words of his Father. Jesus obeyed the Father—think about that! The morally perfect God-man obeyed his Heavenly Father. Why would he need to do that if he was perfect? Because the Father delights in obedience, and the pleasure of the Father was the delight of the Son. Once you realize that, for the Christian, sin and obedience are relational and not legal, the question of “how much can I sin and get away with it?” seems incongruous, even preposterous.

Following Christ is costly.

Pleasing God with our obedience is always costly: it means that we have to say no to selfish desire, since “it costs a man his life.” Bonhoeffer hearkens back to Jesus’ analogy of the man who sells all he has to gain a great treasure hidden in a field. Since the reward is hidden, there is risk in the transaction, and the merchant has to give up his money to obtain it. In the same way, there is pleasure in lust, masturbation, and pornography that we give up to follow Jesus, and the reward is hidden to us until we “sell all.” The Bible clearly teaches that the reward of this treasure is great, but how can we be sure? The real question is: whom do you trust? The one who became sin with your sin and experienced the wrath of the Father that was due you, he is the one who calls you, and it is he that promises reward beyond your imagining. Can you trust Him more than yourself?

It is Jesus that we are following.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? It’s not necessarily following a set commandments; it’s having your life going in the direction He is going. What is the direction of your life? If you are seeking to be free from the grip of lust, that is good, but to what end? Would you be content with being a pious Pharisee that never lusts after a woman’s body, with a heart that has become frozen into a grimace of self control? That would be terrible! The goal of the Christian life is the glory of God by faith working through love. When we think of following Jesus, we should be thinking of how he lived his life. His singular passion was for God to be glorified. The dearest thing to him was the people around him, and especially the poor and disenfranchised. He loved people of faith, who could put their trust in God in the midst of darkness, because that was how he lived his life too. Jesus hasn’t stopped ‘living’ just because He ascended. He is accomplishing His will right now, and He’s using people to do it.

Perhaps the best way to win your heart away from lust is to be called into a life of living for others, so you can experience the joy of obedience, the pleasure of following Jesus. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).