I first heard Billy Graham preach in 1970 at Cowboys Stadium in Irving, Texas. The legendary teams of Tom Landry had yet to play in the stadium which was in its last stages of construction. I sat in rapt silence with more than 50,000 others as Dr. Graham preached. At the close of the service, thousands flooded the aisles in response to his invitation to trust Christ. I later witnessed the same in Houston and Minneapolis. For more than 50 years he preached with the same results in more than 185 countries and territories.
Throughout his ministry he avoided the excess of other evangelists, placing himself on a limited salary and avoiding scandal. I watched him join hands with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in support of racial integration refusing to preach to segregated crowds.
Every president since Harry Truman sought him for counsel and prayer, both Democrat and Republican. Some tried to use their friendship for political advantage, others credited him with strengthening their faith. Dr. Graham died in 2018 at the age of 99. He was the fourth private Citizen in U.S. history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C.
More than thirty years ago, when he was still in his 60’s, Dr. Graham reflected on his evangelistic ministry and asked some sobering questions. “I look back on my many years as an evangelist, and I wonder, have I made the Christian faith look too easy? … Of course, our salvation is a result of what Christ has done for us in His life and death and resurrection, not what we can do for ourselves. Of course, we can trust Him to complete in us what He has begun. But in my eagerness to give away God’s great gift, have I been honest about the price He paid in His war with evil? And have I adequately explained the price we must pay in our own war against evil at work in and around our lives?”
A few years ago my wife and I spent the summer in Nuremburg, Germany working with a new church. While there I read Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and visited his home in Berlin. Before he was martyred by Adolph Hitler, Bonhoeffer raised similar questions in his book, The Cost of Discipleship.
Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace. … Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: ‘ye were bought with a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.” Speaking of his generation, Bonhoeffer wrote, “We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”
Billy Graham’s probing reflection on his ministry and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prophetic book written during Hitler’s rise to power raise questions about our own faith. Have we responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him? Are we His disciples? Are we seeking to keep His commandments in all our relationships at home, at school, at church and at work? Are we embracing cheap grace that costs nothing or are we embracing costly grace that cost God His own Son?