Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?
-Luke 14:28, NIV
Everything has a cost. It seems obvious, but sometimes it bears repeating. Everything has a cost. Austrian economists who follow the Kantian principles of von Mises understand economics to be the science of human action and human action to be predicated on choice. Choice is transactional by nature: in selecting one option, one must forego another, even if only temporarily. The cost of doing one thing involves the expenditure of energy and resources to achieve it, but also the loss of doing something else instead.
Sacrifice can be understood in these terms. The pain one endures in order to achieve some noble end is the price paid for it. Such pain can be physical, psychological, or spiritual. In many circumstances there is no clear party to whom the pain is given; it is simply a facet of acquiring the desired end. Many pagan religions, however, saw their gods as the parties to whom payment was rendered in order to obtain supernatural aid. “Do ut des” was the terse Latin expression of this sentiment: “I give so that you may give.”
Grace, defined as unmerited favour, is not a part of this picture. In its purest form, it is selfless giving with no thought of recompense, no obligation attached to the gift in and of itself. Giving that responds to such grace can come from a number of motivations: a desire to acknowledge and show gratitude or a desire to be in no man’s debt. The latter view does not accept grace for what it is, but sees it as an obligation, a chain from which release cannot be gained except by repayment.
Pondering on where we as individuals are and where the Church is as a whole, I find myself seeing both grace and cost as parts of the journey from where we are to where we need to be. God sheds grace on us in order to empower us to do His will on earth, the centre of which is the preach the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have not heard. But answering God’s call involves a cost, if only from the perspective of our old, fleshly selves. One such cost is this: the Gospel is offensive; in preaching it we may lose friends and make enemies. We may lose the respect of those to whom it is the odour of death, even as we gain the love of those to whom it is the pleasant aroma of salvation.