Cheap Grace or Costly?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us in his work, “The Cost of Discipleship” that “…grace and discipleship are inseparable,” [Bonhoeffer, page 46]. In a phrase: Grace is costly, not only because it cost God His Son’s life on Calvary [1 Corinthians 7:23] but because it costs us, ours, as well [Luke 9:23]. A grace that saves us but does not change us: our perspective on life, our passions, our dreams or how we live, is a cheap grace since it has accomplished nothing for which Christ gave His life to provide.

We are called to “deny ourselves and carry our cross as we follow Christ. …and not on weekends or Sundays only but “daily” [Luke 9:23]. And what does it mean to “deny”? Its most basic meaning is “to say, ‘No!’” [Kittel, vol I, page 469]. Oh how demanding we are of self! How soft, selfishly soft, the comfort we seek and rationalize we deserve! Have we lost the ability to say, “No!” to ourselves, to sin and comfort, for the sake of our witness and God loving others through us [1 Corinthians 9:27]?


Grace might be free but it is not cheap. We have always recognized the ‘e’ in the acrostic to mean “expense” And yet, that is not the whole story; for, in speaking of “cost” Jesus taught the parable about an unmerciful servant [Matthew 18:21-35] and his master’s absolute forgiveness of this servant’s debt which was not the result of risky investments or poverty but of swindle. This servant defrauded his master of what was his master’s rightful possession, which is a metaphor for our unfaithfulness toward the God Who loved us. We abused through sinning the gift of life God gave us while He made us for His fellowship. But what did Jesus emphasize in this story? Not His forgiveness but the need of ours toward each other and others [Matthew 18:35]. Grace is cheapened when we are thereby forgiven without any interest in forgiving. To forgive indeed we must forgive in deed! This incorporates a desire for reconciliation. A forgiving heart holds no bitterness or vengeance. The story of grace is a story of God creating in us forgiving hearts.  [It is not strange to discover that both words, grace and forgiveness, derive from the same Greek word, Ephesians 4:32.]


Jesus cannot become our Savior and not our Lord! The message of grace is cheapened if nothing is required of us to “come out and be separate” [2 Corinthians 6:17]. If so, if we seek to receive His love but not let it flow out to others, our experience is a stagnant religion rather than the witness of the living stream of eternal salvation Jesus spoke of [John 7:38]. Love is put in to flow out [Romans 5:5]. We are to love as He does [John 15:12]. Our thoughts may become so fixed on what He did for us we don’t take serious what He intends to do through us. The rich young man toward whom Jesus’ heart was warmly drawn is not really the story of liquidating one’s wealth for charity as it is relinquishing all personal ambition and interest for the glorious vision of following Him as one of His disciples [Luke 18:22]. Bonhoeffer calls fellowship, followship, and rightly so [1 Corinthians 1:9].

Grace, therefore, is more than forgiveness, it is God’s empowering to follow in our Lord’s footsteps. [Seventeen times in the Gospels we read Jesus instructing His disciples to “Follow me.”] Justification is a marvelous gift of God but the same word also translates “righteousness” [Kittel, vol II, page 202ff]. We should not claim justification if we do not live it! Grace is cheapened if it is only a declaration of righteousness without sanctification. As we can rightly maintain God’s gift of grace is working on us [“from glory to glory”] transforming us into the image of Christ [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Justification leads to glorification [Romans 8:30]. It has to! It is cheapened if it becomes mere religious duty or devotion or a Sunday morning habit.


Grace is cheapened if we continue in sin [Romans 6:1-2]. Cheap grace is a carte blanche to sin and is not what God offers! As Bonhoeffer, in other words, noted, “acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the experience in which it was acquired” [Bonhoeffer, page 51]. “The call to discipleship,” the pastor affirmed, “is [the] gift of grace” [italics added. Bonhoeffer, page 51]. There is no biblical word for academic knowledge.


Cheap grace cheapens faith because it denies that the word “faith” includes “faithfulness,” the other side of the same coin, so to speak. And faithfulness is also an ongoing experience [“from faith into faith” Romans 1:17] …into Christ according to Paul [Philippians 1:29 says “into” as an activity (faithful) and not “in” as a condition (faith)]. Salvation is a deepening relationship with Him. Faith is faithfulness. Saving grace is God’s empowering us to follow in His steps as His disciples.

Here is where Bonhoeffer waxes eloquent and inspired. “Do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang?” he asked. “The price we are having to pay today, “he observed, “in the shape of the collapse of the organized church [I think not just a dwindling membership but the apparent absence of commitment to pastoral vision] is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low cost. We gave away the Word … wholesale.” [Bonhoeffer, page 54] Bonhoeffer recognized with sadness the Church’s message being made more seeker friendly than challenging.


Bonhoeffer continued, “Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way [Matthew 7:14] was hardly ever heard” [Bonhoeffer, page 54]. We need to relearn the relationship between grace and discipleship. Bonhoeffer concludes, “It is becoming clearer every day that the most urgent problem besetting [the] Church is this: How can we live the Christian life in the modern world?” [Bonhoeffer, page 55].

The encouraging thought is that Jesus gave us the answer in His “Sermon on the Mount” and added “it’s easy” [Matthew 11:30]. Jesus used the word, “Happy” [blessed] as He unfurled the scroll of such a revelation. There is a bit more to this truth than what is found in Matthew’s record but it is all good—excitingly good.

Bonhoeffer concluded, “Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fountain of mercy” [Bonhoeffer, page 56].

The Sermon on the Mount

One cannot talk grace without studying discipleship and that is a study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and primarily the Beatitudes. Here is where we find the gateway that opens to the way that is narrow that we are called to walk.

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