Cheap Grace (Part 1)

I apologize for the length of this, but there is a lot to say. Most of the words are not mine; they speak more powerfully than anything I could have written. But I ask that you take a few minutes and soak it in.

I’ve gone back to take a new look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship. It’s a very challenging book, because it challenges us to match our actions with our profession of faith. In another post, I’d like to mention a few things in response to what Bonhoeffer has to say. First, though, I wanted to share a few of his own words about what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” The following are his words:

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. The essence of [cheap] grace is grace without price; grace without cost! In this grace, the account has been paid in advance, and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…it amounts to a denial of the living Word of God…cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.”

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. 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 pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. 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.”

And here is where he really steps on our toes….

A misunderstanding of grace, “means that I set out to live the Christian life in the world with all my sins justified beforehand. I can go and sin as much as I like, and rely on this grace to forgive me, for after all the world is justified in principle by grace. I can therefore cling to my . . . secular existence, and remain as I was before, but with the added assurance that the grace of God will cover me. It is under the influence of this kind of ‘grace’ that the world has been made ‘Christian,’ but at the cost of secularizing the Christian religion as never before . . . The Christian life comes to mean nothing more than living in the world and as the world, in being no different from the world, in fact, in being prohibited from being different from the world for the sake of grace. The upshot of it all is that my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven. I need no longer try to follow Christ, for cheap grace, the bitterest foe of discipleship . . . has freed me from that.”

The result of all this, Bonhoeffer states, is that, “We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ.” [The same could be said about a lot of us Baptists, too.] Our embrace of cheap grace, he argues, is that, “it [cheap grace] has hardened us in our disobedience,” rather than, “calling us to follow Christ.” The challenge we face is that, “We must therefore . . . to recover a true understanding of the mutual relation between grace and discipleship.”

Have you embraced a cheap form of grace? Keep in mind that when Jesus reached down and began to draw you to Himself, He called you to a response that goes farther than just a prayer. He called you and me to follow Him. That takes of our time. That takes of our effort and energy. It takes sacrifice, too. Let’s embrace a more costly form of grace.

These quotes are from Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchtone, 1995), 43-55.


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