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Christian Life

Grace may be Free but It isn’t Cheap, It is Costly

July 20, 2015


I am aghast at all the articles, blogs, facebook posts, and whatever else from people who claim they are gay, and/or married and are also Christians who believe that legalizing homosexuality is a good, Christian thing to do.  I am astonished by the people who think the thing Christians need to focus on is being more accepting and tolerant of other people.  I am continually downtrodden by those who have spun Christianity to portray the immensely important aspects of grace and love as indiscriminately accepting of every sin and every person, with complete disregard to the true meaning of grace and the futuristic effects of sin being institutionalized.

In 1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of the misconception of grace that he witnessed the Church accepting.  The foundation of Christianity, grace, was then being diminished to the point of becoming harmful to faith and evangelism.  Now, 78 years later, I believe we are experiencing this same phenomenon but it is exponentially more integrated into Christianity, and therefore far more dangerous. I will be quoting quite a bit from his book, The Cost of Discipleship because his direct words are far more powerful and elegant than my own.

“Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.  Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite.  What would grace be if it were not cheap?”

Grace in Christianity is so important because we had a debt we could not pay and only therefore deserved death and yet God made a way for us to come to him even when we did not deserve it.  Because we were given the gift of grace seemingly for free, we are prone to so often use verses such as Ephesians 1:6-7 “to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace…” and Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.”  These and many other verses concerning grace, to turn grace into something cheap and essentially worthless, when truthfully grace is so precious and costly for both humans and God.

Cheap Grace vs Costly Grace

Bonhoeffer makes a very important distinction between cheap grace and costly grace.  He states:

“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, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

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.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.”

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: ‘we were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.  Costly grace is the Incarnation of God”.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs.  It is therefore the living word, the Word of God which he speaks as it pleases him.  Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart.  Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship

Biblical Grace is Costly; Worldly Grace is Cheap

Bonhoeffer is absolutely right in his distinction between grace as biblical and being costly and as worldly and cheap.  I also agree with him in his claim of many Christians tragically falling prey to the over simplification of something as important as grace.

Bonhoeffer furthers the idea of grace being costly by elaborating on grace as not a mere oversight or forgiveness of our sins, but instead an offer to come and follow after Christ, to be his disciple.  The implications of this difference are enormously profound.  In our case today I see this difference as people who claim the grace of God and yet live without claiming the lifestyle of a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Grace as free requires no action on our part, but grace wasn’t free.  Being given the opportunity to accept Christ as our savior and to live likewise was grace, and that most assuredly was not free.  Therefore the acceptance of that grace, while freely available to anyone whom Christ calls, is also not cheap to us, it is costly.  We must give up our lives and humble ourselves, living completely for God.

Where this conception of cheap grace scares me the most is that in accepting it, I believe people tragically misunderstand the gospel.  What this means is that I think people will believe they are claiming salvation, when in reality they are not.  Churches are proclaiming a salvation that is not biblical and that does not save.  People are led astray from the unsurpassable joy that comes from a true relationship with the God who loves us unconditionally.

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Many people who are under this assumption of cheap grace will live according to it and they might prophesy in Jesus’ name, but if they are not doing his will, living as a disciple of Christ I believe it clear that many will be turned away from Heaven.

Yes, as Romans 8:1 states, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those are in Christ Jesus..” We must be IN Christ Jesus and not simply claim his name or his grace.  Christians must follow after Christ as his disciples.  Christians must teach people that God’s grace to us is living as a disciple of Christ, wholly and without reserve.  God showed us his true grace when Jesus said to Levi the tax collector, “‘Follow me,’ and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27-28)

I will leave you with one last quote from Bonhoeffer and encourage you all to read his book, The Cost of Discipleship.

“The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.  Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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