Do we really want cheap grace? It is easier to lie when caught with our hand in the cookie jar– at first. All too often, however, we are caught in our lie and discover it would have been far less painful to tell the truth at first rather than be forced to admit the truth later.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.”
Ash Wednesday is a day frequently associated with a worship service. Scriptures regarding confession are read and prayers of confession flow from hearts filled with remorse by past deeds and the desire for divine help not to repeat those painful actions in the future. The service closes with the opportunity to have ashes smeared, i.e. imposed, on a person’s forehead or hand in the shape of a cross in order to demonstrate the sincerity of the worshipper to themselves and others. The fact that the ashes are made by burning the palm branches waved in last years Palm Sunday celebration welcoming Jesus further dramatizes the powerful deep abiding love of the Savior for those who do earnestly repent of their sins.
Ash Wednesday is all about God’s grace, which is not cheap. It is all about Jesus’ death that we might have life. It is about the payment of sin’s penalty in order to bestow forgiveness on all who will receive it. Grace may only be received when we let go of the false self.
The False Self is a protective self. When we only rely on our own resources for our identity, meaning, value and purpose, our false self, like Cain, constructs a “city” for itself using attitudes, habits, and patterns of behavior that not only serve to define our identity but also protect and defend us against real or imagined threats.
The False Self is a fearful self. The first thing that happened to Adam and Eve after they tried to become their own god in the Garden of Eve was they became fearful, “we were afraid”. A common response to fear is performance. We seek to compensate by thinking “I am what I do”. Because we fear we might be de-valued, we fear others who might see through our façade of competence, confidence, and control and outperform us, which would be a put down.
The False Self wears many other masks. They must be removed in God’s presence, confessed and repented of before God’s grace can enter our lives. Ash Wednesday is a perfect day, and attending a church that offers such a time of worship is a good guide in the process if you are comfortable there.
The Welcoming Prayer is a marvelous tool for transformation into the image of Christ and being filled with the grace of Christ. The Forty Days before Easter known as Lent is an opportune time to practice it. Welcome is the sacred symbol of inviting the presence and action of the Indwelling Holy Spirit. Repeat the following letting go sentences to open to the healing action of the Holy Spirit within every baptized follower of Jesus Christ. I let go of my (false self) desire for security and survival. Welcome. I let go of my desire for approval and affection. Welcome. I let go of my desire for power and control. Welcome. I let go of my desire to change any situation, person, event, emotion or feeling. Welcome.